This subproject is one of many research subprojects utilizing the resources provided by a Center grant funded by NIH/NCRR. Primary support for the subproject and the subproject's principal investigator may have been provided by other sources, including other NIH sources. The Total Cost listed for the subproject likely represents the estimated amount of Center infrastructure utilized by the subproject, not direct funding provided by the NCRR grant to the subproject or subproject staff. We are using NCMIR to study Parkinson's disease (PD) and related neurodegenerative disorders. We hypothesize that alpha-synuclein (a-syn) causes neurodegeneration by inducing chronic mitochondrial fission through abnormal interaction with mitochondrial fission and fusion GTPases. Our current understanding of PD suggests that a-syn-mediated disruption of mitochondrial fusion/fission events may be a mechanism of neuronal toxicity. Nevertheless, this idea has never been tested. Mitochondrial fusion is thought to provide protection by facilitating the mixing mitochondrial contents, such as metabolites and mtDNA. Several observations of a-syn are in agreement with our hypothesis. First, brain tissue of PD patients and a-syn transgenic mice exhibit abnormal mitochondrial ultrastructure, respiratory complex I inhibition, and increased free radical production. In addition, overexpression of human a-syn in transgenic mice leads to dopaminergic synaptic loss. Furthermore, a-syn modulates membrane composition and forms pores similar to bacterial toxins. Intriguingly, Bax, a pro-cell death molecule of the Bcl-2 family that associates with the mitochondrial outer membrane, also has pore-forming activity and a structure similar to bacterial toxins. Recent publications show that Bax is a component of mitochondrial fission/fusion complexes in dying cells. Finally, a-syn cooperates in SNARE complex assembly that regulates exocytosis and membrane fusion. Mitofusins (Mfns) may mediate mitochondrial membrane fusion by a SNARE-like mechanism. Thus, it is conceivable that a-syn may interact with Mfns, similar to SNAREs. Dynamin-related GTPases regulate mitochondrial fission and fusion, important cellular processes that neurons must balance to maintain normal mitochondrial and synaptic activity. Dynamin-related protein 1 (Drp1) directs mitochondrial fission (division) and Mfn 1, 2 regulate mitochondrial fusion. Previous research has linked excessive mitochondrial fission to neurodegeneration and induction of mitochondrial fusion to the prevention of neuronal cell death. Bax co-localizes with Drp1 in fission complexes on mitochondria and regulates apoptotic mitochondrial fission. We believe that a-syn, like Bax, may interact with the Mfns or Drp1. Supporting this hypothesis is the observation that a-syn forms clusters on mitochondria that may constitute future or past fission sites. Mutant or abnormally folded a-syn may inhibit Mfn GTPase function and prevent mitochondrial fusion. Alternatively, a-syn may bind and activate Drp1, thereby promoting excessive fission. The consequences of such interactions might include the breakdown of long mitochondrial filaments into multiple, isolated fragments, chronic respiratory inhibition, increased free radical levels, impaired calcium buffering, energy decline, accumulation and manifestation of mtDNA mutations, and ultrastructural defects of mitochondria. Mitochondrial dysfunction, energy crisis, and oxidative stress would then cause loss of synapses, protein aggregation, and neuronal dysfunction and loss.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Center for Research Resources (NCRR)
Biotechnology Resource Grants (P41)
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University of California San Diego
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