Mitochondria are redistributed in Drosophila photoreceptors lacking milton, a kinesin-associated protein

J Comp Neurol. 2003 Sep 1;463(4):372-88. doi: 10.1002/cne.10750.


Photoreceptors are richly supplied with mitochondria, where they are required to meet the energetic demands, in the soma, of phototransduction and, in the terminal, of neurotransmitter release. Compromising the latter, we have made photoreceptors R1-R6 in Drosophila ommatidia homozygous for either of two alleles, milt(186) and milt(92), of milton in whole-eye mosaics. Such mutant photoreceptors fail to target mitochondria to their terminals. We show from quantitative electron microscopy (EM) that mitochondria are totally lacking at the terminal but nevertheless abundant and present throughout the soma, where their distribution differs from that of control ommatidia, however, being more heavily concentrated in the nuclear region. Mitochondria are sparse at the basalmost level of mutant ommatidia, and are lacking beneath the basement membrane, in the axons and terminals of these cells. The absence of mitochondria from R1-R6 terminals and concommitant reductions in synaptic vesicle packing density, previously reported, we show here are accompanied by reduced immunoreactivity to the photoreceptor transmitter histamine but not by any change in total head histamine content, as determined by high-performance liquid chromatography. Mutant terminals also contain vesicle profiles with a wider range of sizes. These two phenotypes suggest that the reduced availability of ATP when mutant terminals lack a mitochondrial supply compromises their ability to pump histamine into synaptic vesicles and perturbs membrane distribution within the terminal. In addition, a band of somata in the lamina cortex, at least some of which are postsynaptic neurons not homozygous for milton, also shows altered mitochondrial targeting, with abnormal clusters of mitochondria, as visualized by immunolabeling with anti-hsp and by serial EM. Within the lamina, terminals of mutant photoreceptors are penetrated by neighboring cells with invaginations that frequently contain mitochondria, suggesting that a mechanism exists for intercellular metabolic support. Our findings indicate the direct and compensatory responses in a population of neurons when mitochondria are not correctly targeted to their synaptic terminals.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Drosophila
  • Drosophila Proteins / deficiency
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / deficiency
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism*
  • Photoreceptor Cells / metabolism*


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • milt protein, Drosophila