A whole blood approach improves speed and accuracy when measuring mitochondrial respiration in intact avian blood cells

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Understanding mitochondrial biology and pathology is key to understanding the evolution of animal form and function. However, mitochondrial measurement often involves invasive, or even terminal, sampling, which can be difficult to reconcile in wild models or longitudinal studies. Non-mammal vertebrates contain mitochondria in their red blood cells, which can be exploited for minimally invasive mitochondrial measurement. Several recent bird studies have measured mitochondrial function using isolated blood cells. Isolation adds time in the laboratory and might be associated with physiological complications. We developed and validated a protocol to measure mitochondrial respiration in bird whole blood. Endogenous respiration was comparable between isolated blood cells and whole blood. However, respiration towards oxidative phosphorylation was higher in whole blood, and whole blood mitochondria were better coupled and had higher maximum working capacity. Whole blood measurement was also more reproducible than measurement on isolated cells for all traits considered. Measurements were feasible over a 10-fold range of sample volumes, although both small and large volumes were associated with changes to respiratory traits. The protocol was compatible with long-term storage: after 24 h at 5°C without agitation, all respiration traits but maximum working capacity remained unchanged, the latter decreasing by 14%. Our study suggests that whole blood measurement provides faster, more reproducible, and more biologically and physiologically relevant (mitochondrial integrity) assessment of mitochondrial respiration. We recommend future studies to take a whole blood approach unless specific circumstances require the use of isolated blood cells.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere22766
Number of pages12
JournalFASEB Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Cell Biology
  • Zoology
  • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

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