Getting rid of old mitochondria: Some neurons turn to neighbors to help take out the trash
News Jun 17, 2014
It’s broadly assumed that cells degrade and recycle their own old or damaged organelles, but researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Kennedy Krieger Institute have discovered that some neurons transfer unwanted mitochondria – the tiny power plants inside cells – to supporting glial cells called astrocytes for disposal.
The findings, published in the June 17 online Early Edition of PNAS, suggest some basic biology may need revising, but they also have potential implications for improving the understanding and treatment of many neurodegenerative and metabolic disorders.
“It does call into question the conventional assumption that cells necessarily degrade their own organelles. We don’t yet know how generalized this process is throughout the brain, but our work suggests it’s probably widespread,” said Mark H. Ellisman, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Neurosciences, director of the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research (NCMIR) at UC San Diego and co-senior author of the study with Nicholas Marsh-Armstrong, PhD, in the Department of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University and the Hugo W. Moser Research Institute at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore.
“The discovery of a standard process for transfer of trash from neuron to glia will most likely be very important to understanding age-related declines in function of the brain and neurodegenerative or metabolic disorders,” Marsh-Armstrong said. “We expect the impact to be significant in other areas of biomedicine as well.”
The researchers looked specifically at the axons of retinal ganglion cells in mice, a type of neuron that transmits visual information from the eye to the brain. The investigation was prompted by observations by Marsh-Armstrong while studying a mouse model of glaucoma that protein products from the retina were accumulating in the optic nerve head (ONH) just behind the eye.
Using a combination of advanced microscopy and molecular techniques developed at the Ellisman and Marsh-Armstrong laboratories, they discovered that damaged mitochondria in retinal ganglion cells were shed at the ONH where ganglion cell axons exit the eye to form the optic nerve leading to the brain. These mitochondria were taken up and degraded by adjacent astrocytes, the most abundant form of glial cell in the vertebrate nervous system and the only cell which bridges between nerve cells and the brain’s blood supply.
The discovery refutes the common assumption that all cells internally isolate, degrade and remove damaged materials – a process generally known as autophagy (Greek for “to self-eat”). When the process involves mitochondria, it’s called mitophagy. The process described by Marsh-Armstrong, Ellisman and colleagues has been dubbed “transmitophagy.”
The surprising findings still leave questions to be answered. For example, do the mitochondria removed at the ONH originate only from the population residing in the long conducting nerve fibers from the eye to the brain or are some actively transported from the retina itself?
Ellisman said the findings could potentially improve understanding – and perhaps eventually the treatment – of diverse disorders. “Mitochondria play prominent roles in the health of axons, which are fundamental to connecting neurons and transmitting information. It should be a priority to further explore what happens in transmitophagy and whether defects in this phenomenon contribute to neuronal dysfunction or disease.”
Note: Material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.
Chung-ha O. Davis, Keun-Young Kim, Eric A. Bushong, Elizabeth A. Mills, Daniela Boassa, Tiffany Shih, Mira Kinebuchi, Sebastien Phan, Yi Zhou, Nathan A. Bihlmeyer, Judy V. Nguyen, Yunju Jin, Mark H. Ellisman, Nicholas Marsh-Armstrong. Transcellular degradation of axonal mitochondria. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Published Online June 17 2014. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1404651111
Fragile X: Drug Strategy Could Alleviate Behavioral & Cellular DeficienciesNews
Research in mice shows that a pharmacological strategy can alleviate multiple behavioral and cellular deficiencies in a mouse model of fragile X syndrome (FXS), the most common inherited form of intellectual disability and a major single-gene cause of autism spectrum disorders.READ MORE
VIP Neuron Firing Rate Determines How Well You Overcome JetlagNews
Testing the different firing patterns of VIP neurons, researchers found that mice got over jet lag faster when VIP neurons were activated to irregularly fire.READ MORE
Availability of Brain Tumor Surgery Dye Increases for NHS PatientsNews
A chemical dye that lights up brain tumours during surgery should be available to more NHS patients in England, according to the National Institute for Health and Care and Excellence (NICE).READ MORE