The human Lon protease is a master regulator of mitochondrial proteostasis, which is essential for regulating mitochondrial energy metabolism and mitigating cell stress. We recently identified a novel pathogenic variant in the LONP1 gene encoding Lon, in two siblings with profound neurologic impairment, cerebral and cerebellar atrophy, in which proline at position 761 was replaced by leucine (Lon-P761L). Primary skin fibroblasts from these siblings, showed that the activity of pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) was substantially reduced. PDH deficiency was caused by the failure of Lon-P761L to degrade the phosphorylated E1a subunit of PDH, which accumulates and inhibits PDH activity. PDH is the central gatekeeper linking glycolysis to the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, and is also a key regulatory node for glucose and fatty acid catabolism. Our long term goal is to elucidate why homozygous Lon-P761L expression causes severe neurologic dysfunction and neurodegeneration. Glucose is the brain?s principal source of energy. Neurons generate ATP almost exclusively by glucose oxidization, thus fully functional PDH activity is crucial. Astrocytes by contrast, have broader metabolic capacity and supply neurons with lactate, glutamine and ketone bodies, which are used to form acetyl CoA and TCA cycle intermediates required for glucose oxidation. We hypothesize that wild type Lon regulates the architecture and activities of the PDH complex, and modulates upstream and downstream effectors, to calibrate mitochondrial metabolism and energetics. In this project, we will employ patient-and parent-derived fibroblasts, and also fibroblasts that have been reprogrammed to generate induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). These iPSCs will be differentiated into neurons and astrocytes. Using the patient- and parent- derived fibroblasts, Aim 1 will test the hypothesis that Lon-mediated degradation regulates the architecture and activity of the PDH complex.
Aim 2 will identify the up- and down-stream modulators of the Lon-PDH axis, which are altered in cells expressing wild type Lon versus Lon-P761L.
In Aim 3, we will investigate the regulation of PDH by Lon in iPSCs differentiated into neurons and astrocytes. Our investigation will establish new molecular mechanisms for the Lon-dependent regulation of PDH. The knowledge gained will also help to identify potential therapeutic protein targets (e.g. PDK, PDP, Lon), pharmacologic and dietary interventions for increasing PDH activity and/or for treating PDH deficiency associated with Lon dysfunction. These outcomes have a broader impact for understanding how PDH activity and mitochondrial metabolism can be calibrated in both rare and more common disorders such as heart disease, cancer and neurodegeneration.
Our work recently identified a novel missense mutation in the gene encoding the mitochondrial Lon protease, which causes profound neurological impairment, cerebral and cerebellar atrophy. We demonstrated that this genetic defect is associated with deficiency in pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH)-the major gatekeeper of energy metabolism, which coordinates the body?s use of glucose, fatty acids and ketone bodies to fuel mitochondrial ATP production. The goal of this project is to elucidate the molecular mechanisms by which defective Lon impairs the function of brain cells, specifically neurons and astrocytes.