Gigantic Animal Cells Suggest Organellar Scaling Mechanisms Across a 50-fold Range in Cell Volume

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Across the tree of life, cell size varies by orders of magnitude, and organelles scale to maintain cell function. Depending on their shape, organelles can scale by increasing volume, length, or number. Scaling may also reflect demands placed on organelles by increased cell size. The 8,653 species of amphibians exhibit diverse cell sizes, providing a powerful system to investigate organellar scaling. Using transmission electron microscopy and stereology, we analyzed three frog and salamander species whose enterocyte cell volumes range from 228 to 10,593 μm 3 . We show that the nucleus increases in radius while the mitochondria increase in total network length; the endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi apparatus, with their complex shapes, are intermediate. Notably, all four organelles increase in volume proportionate to cell volume. This pattern suggests that protein concentrations are the same across amphibian species that differ 50-fold in cell size, and that organellar building blocks are incorporated into more or larger organelles following the same “rules” across cell sizes, despite variation in metabolic and transport demands. This conclusion contradicts results from experimental cell size increases, which produce severe proteome dilution. We hypothesize that salamanders have evolved the biosynthetic capacity to maintain a functional proteome despite a huge cell volume.

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