Friday, 2 September 2016

ARTICLE: Controlling the control of our cellular power stations

Modulating mitochondrial quality in disease transmission: towards enabling mitochondrial DNA disease carriers to have healthy children

Alan Diot, Eszter Dombi, Tiffany Lodge, Chunyan Liao, Karl Morten, Janet Carver, Dagan Wells, Tim Child, Iain G Johnston, Suzannah Williams, Joanna Poulton
Biochem Soc Trans (in press) (2016)
  • Dysfunctional mitochondria are recycled by the cell in a process that helps avoid disease; we summarise extending and provide new information about this process, and show -- agreeing with our mathematical theory -- that it can be modulated with drug treatments, providing potentially new therapeutic avenues.
Mitochondria -- a focus of our research -- are "power stations" in our cells that produce the energy we need to live. Like the power stations we build, mitochondria contain machines that work to produce this energy. They also contain the genetic "instructions" on how to build these machines, in the form of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). MtDNA can become mutated, spoiling these instructions, giving rise to dysfunctional machines and causing problems in our cells. Thankfully, our cells have systems that helps remove these mutant mtDNAs and recycle the bad machines that they've produced. One example is "mitophagy" (from mito-(chondria) and -phagy (eating)), as we've written about before.

Mitophagy uses "autophagosomes" to remove mtDNA from the cell, but it's hard to observe and measure: our understanding of the process, and how we may influence it to address diseases, is limited. In a recent paper, we summarise current understanding of mitophagy, particularly during early development (of importance for the inheritance of mtDNA diseases). As experiments and models explore the process in more detail, different types of mitophagy (progressing through different pathways) have been identified, as have fascinating "surges" of mitophagy at different developmental stages. In a new paper in Biochemical Society Transactions we discuss how these individual results are helping to build an overall picture of how mtDNA populations are controlled by cells.

Figure: single-cell microscopy determines how many autophagosomes (green), potentially recycling dysfunctional mitochondria, exist in cells during development. Drug treatments (lower row) can influence this number, potentially allowing us to control cellular mtDNA populations.

We also present some interesting preliminary results that may help us better understand, and control, mitophagy. Very soon after fertilisation, as an egg cell starts to divide, it seems that the amount of mtDNA in the growing embryo may decrease, rather more than previously reported. The experimental team, centred on Alan Diot, explored how many autophagosomes existed within cells during this process, and also showed that post-fertilisation treatment with drugs can affect the number of autophagosomes and hence the mtDNA populations in dividing cells (see figure). We've previously shown using mathematical modelling that decreasing mtDNA content may help avoid the inheritance of mtDNA diseases -- these new results highlight the feasibility of these potential new therapeutic strategies to address mtDNA disease inheritance. Iain

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