Alternative oxidase rescues mitochondria-mediated dopaminergic cell loss in Drosophila

Dickon M Humphrey, Richard B Parsons, Zoe N Ludlow, Thomas Riemensperger, Giovanni Esposito, Patrik Verstreken, Howard T Jacobs, Serge Birman, Frank Hirth
Human Molecular Genetics 2012 June 15, 21 (12): 2698-712
Mitochondrial dysfunction is commonly observed in degenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease that are characterized by the progressive and selective loss of neuronal subpopulations. It is currently unclear, however, whether mitochondrial dysfunction is primary or secondary to other pathogenic processes that eventually lead to age-related neurodegeneration. Here we establish an in vivo Drosophila model of mitochondrial dysfunction by downregulating the catalytic subunit of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) polymerase in cholinergic, serotonergic and dopaminergic neurons. The resulting flies are characterized by lowered respiratory chain activity, premature aging, age-related motor deficits as well as adult onset, progressive and cell-type-specific, dopaminergic neurodegeneration. Using this model, we find that associated lethality can be partially rescued by targeting PINK1/parkin signaling or Drp1, both of which have been implicated in mitochondrial dynamics and Parkinson's disease. Bypassing mitochondrial complex III/IV deficiencies with Alternative oxidase (AOX), however, fully restores ATP levels and prevents dopaminergic neurodegeneration. In contrast, ATP levels and neurodegeneration are not rescued when mitochondrial complex I deficiencies are bypassed with NADH-Q oxidoreductase. Our results demonstrate that mtDNA-mediated mitochondrial dysfunction can cause age-related and cell-type-specific neurodegeneration which AOX is able to alleviate and indicate that AOX or its surrogates may prove useful as a therapeutic tool for limiting respiratory chain deficiencies caused by mtDNA decline in healthy aging and neurodegenerative disease.

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