✍️ Author: Dr Eleni Christoforidou
🕒 Approximate reading time: 4 minutes
Mitochondria, often known as the powerhouses of the cell, are at the centre of cellular health and disease. In recent years, a mounting body of evidence implicates mitochondrial dysfunction in the progression of neurodegenerative diseases.
Mitochondria are responsible for producing the majority of the energy cells need to function, in the form of a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Moreover, they play a role in many other cellular processes, including calcium homeostasis, reactive oxygen species production, and programmed cell death or apoptosis.
Mitochondrial dysfunction has been linked to a range of neurodegenerative diseases. Below are a few examples:
Alzheimer's Disease: Abnormal mitochondrial dynamics and function have been observed in both cellular and animal models of Alzheimer's. Moreover, certain genetic mutations associated with familial Alzheimer's disease have been shown to impact mitochondrial function.
Parkinson's Disease: Genetic studies have identified mutations in mitochondrial genes in familial forms of Parkinson's disease. Moreover, a hallmark of the disease, the loss of dopaminergic neurons, has been associated with mitochondrial dysfunction.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS): In ALS, there's evidence of mitochondrial damage and dysfunction in the affected motor neurons.
Research is still ongoing to uncover how mitochondrial dysfunction contributes to neurodegeneration. Several mechanisms are under investigation:
Energy Depletion: If mitochondria fail to produce sufficient ATP, neurons may not function properly and could eventually die.
Oxidative Stress: Mitochondria are a major source of reactive oxygen species, which can damage cells if not properly managed.
Calcium Dysregulation: Abnormal mitochondrial handling of calcium can disrupt neuronal communication and trigger cell death.
Given the role of mitochondrial dysfunction in neurodegenerative diseases, targeting mitochondria to improve their function or protect them from damage holds therapeutic promise. Various strategies are under development, including enhancing mitochondrial biogenesis, improving mitochondrial quality control mechanisms, and protecting against oxidative damage.
While there's much still to learn, the connection between mitochondrial dysfunction and neurodegenerative diseases is clear. By furthering our understanding of this relationship, we can uncover new strategies to tackle these devastating conditions that affect millions around the world.