Role and mechanisms of secondary mitochondrial failure

Acta Neurochir Suppl. 1999;73:7-13. doi: 10.1007/978-3-7091-6391-7_2.


Ischemia is accompanied by mitochondrial dysfunction, as assessed by measurements of mitochondrial respiratory activities in vitro. Following brief periods of ischemia, mitochondrial function is usually normalized during reperfusion. However, particularly after ischemia of longer duration, reperfusion may be accompanied by secondary mitochondrial failure. After short periods of ischemia this is observed in selectively vulnerable areas and, after intermediate to long periods of ischemia, in other areas as well. However, it has remained unsettled if the mitochondrial dysfunction is the result or the cause of cell death. Although it has been commonly assumed that such failure is secondary to cell injury by other mechanisms, recent results suggest that mitochondrial dysfunction may be the cause of cell death. Indirect evidence for this postulate is provided by experiments showing that cyclosporin A (CsA), when allowed to cross the blood-brain barrier, is a potent neuroprotectant. CsA is a virtually specific blocker of the mitochondrial permeability transition (MPT) pore, a voltage-gated channel allowing molecules and ions with a mass < 1500 Daltons to pass the inner mitochondrial membrane. Experiments on isolated cells in vitro demonstrate that cell calcium accumulation or oxidative stress triggers the assembly of an MPT pore, which leads to collapse of the mitochondrial membrane potential, to ATP hydrolysis, to enhanced production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), and to cell death. The beneficial effect of CsA could thus be related to its ability to block the MPT pore. Longer periods of ischemia, such as occurs after transient middle cerebral artery (MCA) occlusion, lead to pan-necrotic lesions (infarction). In the rat, recirculation following 2 h of MCA occlusion leads to partial normalization of the bioenergetic state but this is followed within 4-6 h by secondary bioenergetic failure. The latter seems unrelated to blockade of the microcirculation, but correlates to secondary mitochondrial failure. The brain damage incurred is ameliorated by the spin trap alpha-phenyl-N-butyl nitrone (PBN) and by the immunosuppressant FK506 even when given 1-3 h after the start of recirculation. The two drugs also prevent the secondary mitochondrial failure during early recirculation, suggesting that such failure is pathogenetically important. Probably, though, the mitochondrial dysfunction involves not only the assembly of an MPT pore but also other mechanisms. Since recirculation is associated with release of mitochondrial proteins it is not unlikely that such proteins, e.g. cytochrome c, trigger cascades of events leading to cell death.6.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Ischemia / physiopathology*
  • Cell Death
  • Ischemic Attack, Transient / physiopathology
  • Mitochondria / physiology*
  • Prosencephalon / blood supply
  • Time Factors