The central nervous system has a particularly high energy requirement, thus making it very susceptible to defects in mitochondrial function. A number of neurodegenerative diseases, in particular Parkinson's disease (PD), Huntington's disease (HD) and Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA), are associated with mitochondrial dysfunction. The identification of a mitochondrial complex-I defect in PD provides a link between toxin models of the disease, and clues to the pathogenesis of idiopathic PD. We have undertaken genomic transplantation studies involving the transfer of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from PD patients with a complex-I defect to a novel nuclear background. Histochemical, immunohistochemical and functional analysis of the resulting cybrids all showed a pattern in the PD clones indicative of a mtDNA mutation. There is good evidence for the involvement of defective energy metabolism and excitotoxicity in the aetiology of HD. We, and others, have shown a severe deficiency of complex II/III confined to the striatum that mimics the toxin-induced animal models of HD. There is also a milder defect in complex IV in the caudate. The tricarboxylic acid cycle enzyme aconitase is particularly sensitive to inhibition by peroxynitrite and superoxide radicals. We have found this enzyme to be severely decreased in HD caudate, putamen and cortex in a pattern that parallels the severity of neuronal loss seen. We propose a scheme for the role of nitric oxide, free radicals and excitotoxicity in the pathogenesis of HD. FRDA is caused by an expanded GAA repeat in intron 1 of the X25 gene encoding a protein called frataxin. Frataxin is widely expressed and is a mitochondrial protein, although its function is unknown. We have found abnormal magnetic resonance spectroscopy in the skeletal muscle of FRDA patients, which parallels our biochemical findings of reduced complexes I-III in patients' heart and skeletal muscle. There is also reduced aconitase activity in these areas. Increased iron deposition was seen in patients' tissues in a pattern consistent with a mitochondrial location. The mitochondrial iron accumulation, defective respiratory chain activity and aconitase dysfunction suggest that frataxin may be involved in mitochondrial iron regulation. There is also evidence that oxidative stress contributes to cellular toxicity.
- © 1999 The Biochemical Society