Mitochondrial dysfunction is a hallmark of many neurodegenerative diseases, yet its precise role in disease pathology remains unclear. To examine this link directly, we subtly perturbed electron transport chain function in the Drosophila retina, creating a model of Leigh Syndrome, an early-onset neurodegenerative disorder. Using mutations that affect mitochondrial complex II, we demonstrate that mild disruptions of mitochondrial function have no effect on the initial stages of photoreceptor development, but cause degeneration of their synapses and cell bodies in late pupal and adult animals. In this model, synapse loss is caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, not energy depletion, as ATP levels are normal in mutant photoreceptors, and both pharmacological and targeted genetic manipulations that reduce ROS levels prevent synapse degeneration. Intriguingly, these manipulations of ROS uncouple synaptic effects from degenerative changes in the cell body, suggesting that mitochondrial dysfunction activates two genetically separable processes, one that induces morphological changes in the cell body, and another that causes synapse loss. Finally, by blocking mitochondrial trafficking into the axon using a mutation affecting a mitochondrial transport complex, we find that ROS action restricted to the cell body is sufficient to cause synaptic degeneration, demonstrating that ROS need not act locally at the synapse. Thus, alterations in electron transport chain function explain many of the neurodegenerative changes seen in both early- and late-onset disorders.
View details for DOI 10.1242/dev.020644
View details for Web of Science ID 000257557200018
View details for PubMedID 18599508