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Tfam knockdown results in reduction of mtDNA copy number, OXPHOS deficiency and abnormalities in zebrafish embryos

Otten ABC, Kamps R, Lindsey P, Gerards M, Pendeville-Samain H, Muller M, van Tienen FHJ, Smeets HJM
bioRxiv. 2019;[preprint] doi:10.1101/843318
High mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) copy numbers are essential for oogenesis and embryogenesis and correlate with fertility of oocytes and viability of embryos. To understand the pathology and mechanisms associated with low mtDNA copy numbers, we knocked down mitochondrial transcription factor A (Tfam), a regulator of mtDNA replication, during early zebrafish development. Reduction of Tfam using a splice-modifying morpholino (MO) resulted in a 42%±4% decrease in mtDNA copy number in embryos at 4 days post fertilization. Morphant embryos displayed abnormal development of the eye, brain, heart and muscle, as well as a 50%±11% decrease in ATP production. Transcriptome analysis revealed a decrease in protein-encoding transcripts from the heavy strand of the mtDNA. In addition, various RNA translation pathways were increased, indicating an upregulation of nuclear and mitochondria-related translation. The developmental defects observed were supported by a decreased expression of pathways related to eye development and haematopoiesis. The increase in mRNA translation might serve as a compensation mechanism, but appears insufficient during prolonged periods of mtDNA depletion, highlighting the importance of high mtDNA copy numbers for early development in zebrafish.
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