Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) consists of a group of complex developmental disabilities characterized by impaired social interactions, deficits in communication and repetitive behavior. Multiple lines of evidence implicate mitochondrial dysfunction in ASD. In postmortem BA21 temporal cortex, a region that exhibits synaptic pathology in ASD, we found that compared to controls, ASD patients exhibited altered protein levels of mitochondria respiratory chain protein complexes, decreased Complex I and IV activities, decreased mitochondrial antioxidant enzyme SOD2, and greater oxidative DNA damage. Mitochondrial membrane mass was higher in ASD brain, as indicated by higher protein levels of mitochondrial membrane proteins Tom20, Tim23 and porin. No differences were observed in either mitochondrial DNA or levels of the mitochondrial gene transcription factor TFAM or cofactor PGC1α, indicating that a mechanism other than alterations in mitochondrial genome or mitochondrial biogenesis underlies these mitochondrial abnormalities. We further identified higher levels of the mitochondrial fission proteins (Fis1 and Drp1) and decreased levels of the fusion proteins (Mfn1, Mfn2 and Opa1) in ASD patients, indicating altered mitochondrial dynamics in ASD brain. Many of these changes were evident in cortical pyramidal neurons, and were observed in ASD children but were less pronounced or absent in adult patients. Together, these findings provide evidence that mitochondrial function and intracellular redox status are compromised in pyramidal neurons in ASD brain and that mitochondrial dysfunction occurs during early childhood when ASD symptoms appear.
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