DOI: 10.1242/bio.060278 ISSN: 2046-6390

A Drosophila model of mitochondrial disease phenotypic heterogeneity

Lucy Granat, Debbra Y. Knorr, Daniel C. Ranson, Ram Prosad Chakrabarty, Navdeep S. Chandel, Joseph M. Bateman
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology

Mutations in genes that affect mitochondrial function cause primary mitochondrial diseases. Mitochondrial diseases are highly heterogeneous and even patients with the same mitochondrial disease can exhibit broad phenotypic heterogeneity, which is poorly understood. Mutations in subunits of mitochondrial respiratory complex I cause complex I deficiency, which can result in severe neurological symptoms and death in infancy. However, some complex I deficiency patients present with much milder symptoms. The most common nuclear gene mutated in complex I deficiency is the highly conserved core subunit NDUFS1. To model the phenotypic heterogeneity in complex I deficiency we used RNAi lines targeting the Drosophila NDUFS1 homolog ND-75 with different efficiencies. Strong knockdown of ND-75 in Drosophila neurons resulted in severe behavioural phenotypes, reduced lifespan, altered mitochondrial morphology, reduced endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-mitochondria contacts and activation of the unfolded protein response (UPR). By contrast, weak ND-75 knockdown caused much milder behavioural phenotypes and changes in mitochondrial morphology. Moreover, weak ND-75 did not alter ER-mitochondria contacts or activate the UPR. Weak and strong ND-75 knockdown resulted in overlapping but distinct transcriptional responses in the brain, with weak knockdown specifically affecting proteosome activity and immune response genes. Metabolism was also differentially affected by weak and strong ND-75 knockdown including gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels, which may contribute to neuronal dysfunction in ND-75 knockdown flies. Several metabolic processes were only affected by strong ND-75 knockdown including the pentose phosphate pathway and the metabolite 2-hydroxyglutarate (2-HG), suggesting 2-HG as a candidate biomarker of severe neurological mitochondrial disease. Thus, our Drosophila model provides the means to dissect the mechanisms underlying phenotypic heterogeneity in mitochondrial disease.

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