Rhodamine 123, a fluorescent laser dye that is selectively taken up into mitochondria of living cells, was used to examine mitochondrial morphology in early-passage (young), late-passage (old), and progeric human fibroblasts. Mitochondria were readily visualized in all cell types during growth (mid-log) and confluent stages. In all cell strains at confluence, mitochondria became shorter, more randomly aligned, and developed a higher proportion of bead-like forms. Treatment of cells for six days with Tevenel, a chloramphenicol analog that inhibits mitochondrial protein synthesis, brought about a marked depletion of mitochondria and a diffuse background fluorescence. Cyanide produced a rapid release of preloaded mitochondrial fluorescence followed by detachment and killing of cells. Colcemid caused a random coiling and fragmentation of mitochondria particularly in the confluent stage. No gross differences were discernible in mitochondria of the three cell strains in mid-log and confluent states or after these treatments. Butanol-extractable fluorescence after loading with rhodamine 123 was lower in all cell strains in confluent compared to mid-log stages. At confluence all three cell strains had similar rhodamine contents at zero-time and after washout up to 24 h. At the mid-log stage, young cells contained more rhodamine initially and lost it more rapidly than old or progeria cells, in that order. The data indicate no gross derangement in the morphology or number of mitochondria in old and progeria fibroblasts but there is a reduction of protonmotive force evident in these cells at the mid-log stage that may be growth limiting.

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