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Correlation between stemness and mitochondria functionality
Giuseppina Nocca1,2, Massimo Cordaro3, Giuseppe E. Martorana1
1Istituto di Biochimica e Biochimica Clinica, Facoltà di Medicina e Chirurgia, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Largo Francesco Vito, 1 00168 Rome, Italy.
2Istituto di Chimica del Riconoscimento Molecolare, CNR, c/o Istituto di Biochimica e Biochimica Clinica, UniversitàCattolica del Sacro Cuore, Rome, Italy.
3Clinica Odontoiatrica, Facoltà di Medicina e Chirurgia, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Largo Francesco Vito, 1 00168 Rome.

Article ID: 100001B01GN2015

Address correspondence to:
Dr. Giuseppina Nocca
Istituto di Biochimica e Biochimica Clinica
Facoltà di Medicina e Chirurgia, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Largo Francesco Vito
1 00168 Rome
Phone: +39063053598
Fax: +39063057612

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Nocca G, Cordaro M, Martorana GE. Correlation between stemness and mitochondria functionality. Edorium J Biochem 2015;1:1–3.

The application of stem cells to regenerative medicine is one of the most crucial field of research, the encouraging developments of which have been already employed in the clinics, although some lacunas in the understanding of stem cell functioning remain still unexplained.

In particular, the basic requirement for the use of stem cells in regenerative medicine is the steady maintenance of their properties during proliferation in prolonged cultures. Specific markers of the undifferentiated state are fundamental for checking cell phenotypes stability in the course of time and comparing cell lines among different laboratories. In fact, human stem cell lines, cultured for extended periods of time, show changes in karyotype stability, expression of cell surface markers, transcription factors and telomerase activity [1] [2] [3]. These modifications are an obstacle to scientists' capability to study and employ adult stem cells ex vivo. In the last years, several parameters were characterized to be directly correlated to the functions of stem cells and mitochondrial activity has been considered as particularly important for sustaining cell viability. Mitochondria, in fact, not only supply cells with the bulk of their ATP, but also refill cellular GTP, as well as control amino acid turnover and accomplish fatty acids beta-oxidation [4]. Moreover, these subcellular organelles, together with the endoplasmic reticulum, serve also as a reservoir of cell calcium.

Some recent papers have analyzed mitochondrial activity and oxygen consumption rate alteration [5] [6][7][8][9][10]. In the very last years, new interesting results were obtained and, in particular, some studies documented that each cell phase depend on a specific metabolic state [4] [11]. In fact, the metabolism of "pluripotent embryonic stem cells" (pESCs) is based on a steady high level of glycolysis while, during cell differentiation, glucose disposal through the glycolytic pathway decreases and mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation increases [5] [12] [13]. Moreover, during stem cell differentiation, mitochondria modify their number, morphology and localization [10] [12] [13] [14] .

Interestingly, when differentiated cells are transformed to "induced Pluripotent Stem Cells" (iPSCs), they switch their metabolism from oxidative phosphorylation back to glycolysis [15], whose inhibition blocks the de-differentiation process [15].

Some adult stem cells, such as Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and long-term hematopoietic stem cells (LT-HSCs), require low level of oxygen to keep undifferentiated conditions. These cells live in niches, under hypoxic condition and they mainly use glycolysis to obtain ATP, thus limiting reactive oxygen species (ROS) production and subsequent damages to DNA and RNA [12] [13]. The relation between aerobic and anaerobic metabolism is much more varied and complex but, if a bit of simplification is allowed, all these results seem to indicate that cell pluripotency (stemness) is related to a really modest oxidative phosphorylation activity linked to the hypoxic conditions in which stem cells are kept living. Nevertheless, many metabolic aspects of stem cells (both adult and embryonic cells) are still not well understood and, for these reasons, is not always possible to obtain in vitro terminally differentiated cells from progenitor cells. The determination of these features might help us to establish whether the stem cells are in quiescent state and when they are fully capable of differentiating. This knowledge could permit the discovery of the linkages of metabolic profiles with different surface markers of stem cells (i.e., CD29, CD44, CD73, CD90, CD105 and CD166) and cell signaling pathways and useful for checking eventual deviations from the normal behavior of stem cells in cultures and sorting out defective cells for the prosecution of work.

Keywords: Mitochondrial function, Stem cells, Pluripotency


We are very grateful to Dr. Marinella Magini, Dr. Federica Vincenzoni of the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and Dr. Alessandro Lupi of the Istituto di Chimica del Riconoscimento Molecolare, CNR, for valuable discussions, encouragement and great interest.

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Author Contributions:
Giuseppina Nocca – Substantial contributions to conception and design, Acquisition of data, Analysis and interpretation of data, Drafting the article, Revising it critically for important intellectual content, Final approval of the version to be published
Massimo Cordaro – Analysis and interpretation of data, Revising it critically for important intellectual content, Final approval of the version to be published
Giuseppe E. Martorana – Analysis and interpretation of data, Revising it critically for important intellectual content, Final approval of the version to be published
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The corresponding author is the guarantor of submission.
Source of support
Conflict of interest
Authors declare no conflict of interest.
© 2015 Giuseppina Nocca et al. This article is distributed under the terms of Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium provided the original author(s) and original publisher are properly credited. Please see the copyright policy on the journal website for more information.

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