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Defective mESCs (green) with poor mitochondria function are eliminated by mESCs with active mitochondria (red)
Lima and Lubatti et al., 2021, Nat Metabolism; ©The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited

Mitochondrial defects characterize 'loser' cells in cell competition

Stem Cells, IES,

The work of the Scialdone Lab at the Helmholtz Zentrum München and the Rodriguez at the Imperial College elucidates that differences in mitochondrial activity are key determinants for cellular fitness in various contexts, where endogenous cell competition takes place. Their work was published in the journal Nature Metabolism.

As multicellular life relies on cell–cell interactions, it is not surprising that this is not always peaceful: cells with higher fitness eliminate cells with lower fitness through cell competition. Cell competition has emerged as a quality control mechanism and occurs when cells differ, genetically or otherwise, from each other. However, the features that that distinguishes "winner" from "loser" cells are still elusive and whether there are key determinants for cell competition present in various contexts. 

The team of researchers around Gabriele Lubatti and Antonio Scialdone found out that the cells "losing" the competition are characterized by defective mitochondria and are marked by sequence changes in their mitochondrial genome. The work suggests that differences in mitochondrial activity is a key determinant of competitive cell fitness, irrespective of the trigger.

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