Mitochondrial permeability transition (PT) is a phenomenon of stress-induced increase in nonspecific permeability of the mitochondrial inner membrane that leads to disruption of oxidative phosphorylation and cell death. Quantitative measurement of the membrane permeability increase during PT is critically important for understanding the PT's impact on mitochondrial function. The elementary unit of PT is a PT pore (PTP), a single channel presumably formed by either ATP synthase or adenine nucleotide translocator (ANT). It is not known how many channels are open in a single mitochondrion during PT, which makes it difficult to quantitatively estimate the overall degree of membrane permeability. Here, we used wide-field microscopy to record mitochondrial swelling and quantitatively measure rates of single-mitochondrion volume increase during PT-induced high-amplitude swelling. PT was quantified by calculating the rates of water flux responsible for measured volume changes. The total water flux through the mitochondrial membrane of a single mitochondrion during PT was in the range of (2.5 ± 0.4) × 10−17 kg/s for swelling in 2 mM Ca2+ and (1.1 ± 0.2) × 10−17 kg/s for swelling in 200 µM Ca2+. Under these experimental conditions, a single PTP channel with ionic conductance of 1.5 nS could allow passage of water at the rate of 0.65 × 10−17 kg/s. Thus, we estimate the integral ionic conductance of the whole mitochondrion during PT to be 5.9 ± 0.9 nS for 2 mM concentration of Ca2+ and 2.6 ± 0.4 nS for 200 µM of Ca2+. The number of PTPs per mitochondrion ranged from one to nine. Due to the uncertainties in PTP structure and model parameters, PTP count results may be slightly underestimated. However, taking into account that each mitochondrion has ∼15,000 copies of ATP synthases and ANTs, our data imply that PTP activation is a rare event that occurs only in a small subpopulation of these proteins.
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