Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington's disease, Mitochondrial dynamics, Neurodegenerative disease, Sirtuin


Mitochondria play important roles in neuronal function and survival, including ATP production, Ca2+ buffering, and apoptosis. Mitochondrial dysfunction is a common event in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Huntington's disease (HD); however, what causes the mitochondrial dysfunction remains unclear. Mitochondrial fission is mediated by dynamin-related protein 1 (DRP1) and fusion by mitofusin 1/2 (MFN1/2) and optic atrophy 1 (OPA1), which are essential for mitochondrial function. Mutations in the mitochondrial fission and fusion machinery lead to neurodegeneration. Thus, whether defective mitochondrial dynamics participates in ALS and HD requires further investigation. ALS is a fatal neurodegenerative disease characterized by upper and lower motor neuron loss. Mutations in Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD1) cause the most common familiar form of ALS by mechanisms not fully understood. Here, a new motor neuron-astrocyte coculture system was created and live-cell imaging was used to evaluate mitochondrial dynamics. Excessive mitochondrial fission was observed in mutant SOD1G93A motor neurons, correlating with impaired axonal transport and neuronal cell death. Inhibition of mitochondrial fission restored mitochondrial dynamics and protected neurons against SOD1G93A -induced mitochondrial fragmentation and neuronal cell death, implicating defects in mitochondrial dynamics in ALS pathogenesis. iv HD is an inherited neurodegenerative disorder caused by glutamine (Q) expansion in the polyQ region of the huntingtin (HTT) protein. In the current work, mutant HTT caused mitochondrial fragmentation in a polyQ-dependent manner in both primary cortical neurons and fibroblasts from human patients. An abnormal interaction between DRP1 and HTT was observed in mutant HTT mice and inhibition of mitochondrial fission or promotion of mitochondrial fusion restored mitochondrial dynamics and protected neurons against mutant HTT-induced cell death. Thus, mutant HTT may increase mitochondrial fission by elevating DRP1 GTPase activity, suggesting that mitochondrial dynamics plays a causal role in HD. In summary, rebalanced mitochondrial fission and fusion rescues neuronal cell death in ALS and HD, suggesting that mitochondrial dynamics could be the molecular mechanism underlying these diseases. Furthermore, DRP1 might be a therapeutic target to delay or prevent neurodegeneration.


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Graduation Date





Bossy-Wetzel, Ella


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Medicine


Molecular Biology and Microbiology

Degree Program

Biomedical Sciences








Release Date

August 2017

Length of Campus-only Access

5 years

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Medicine, Medicine -- Dissertations, Academic