Finite-particle tracking reveals submicroscopic-size changes of mitochondria during transport in mitral cell dendrites

Arne Gennerich, Detlev Schild

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


The mechanisms of molecular motor regulation during bidirectional organelle transport are still uncertain. There is, for instance, the unsettled question of whether opposing motor proteins can be engaged in a tug-of-war. Clearly, any non-synchronous activation of the molecular motors of one cargo can principally lead to changes in the cargo's shape and size; the cargo's size and shape parameters would certainly be observables of such changes. We therefore set out to measure position, shape and size parameters of fluorescent mitochondria (during their transport) in dendrites of cultured neurons using a finite-particle tracking algorithm. Our data clearly show transport-related submicroscopic-size changes of mitochondria. The observed displacements of the mitochondrial front and rear ends are consistent with a model in which microtubule plus- and minus-end-directed motor proteins or motors of the same type but moving along anti-parallel microtubules are often out-of-phase and occasionally engaged in a tug-of-war. Mostly the leading and trailing ends of mitochondria undergo similar characteristic movements but with a substantial time delay between the displacements of both ends, a feature reminiscent of an inchworm-like motility mechanism. More generally, we demonstrate that observing the position, shape and size of actively transported finite objects such as mitochondria can yield information on organelle transport that is generally not accessible by tracking the organelles' centroid alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-53
Number of pages9
JournalPhysical Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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