Background: Mitochondrial impairment has been implicated in the pathogenesis of Huntington's disease (HD). However, how mutant huntingtin impairs mitochondrial function and thus contributes to HD has not been fully elucidated. In this study, we used striatal cells expressing wild type (STHdhQ7/Q7) or mutant (STHdhQ111/Q111) huntingtin protein, and cortical neurons expressing the exon 1 of the huntingtin protein with physiological or pathological polyglutamine domains, to examine the interrelationship among specific mitochondrial functions.
Results: Depolarization induced by KCl resulted in similar changes in calcium levels without compromising mitochondrial function, both in wild type and mutant cells. However, treatment of mutant cells with thapsigargin (a SERCA antagonist that raises cytosolic calcium levels), resulted in a pronounced decrease in mitochondrial calcium uptake, increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), mitochondrial depolarization and fragmentation, and cell viability loss. The mitochondrial dysfunction in mutant cells was also observed in cortical neurons expressing exon 1 of the huntingtin protein with 104 Gln residues (Q104-GFP) when they were exposed to calcium stress. In addition, calcium overload induced opening of the mitochondrial permeability transition pore (mPTP) in mutant striatal cells. The mitochondrial impairment observed in mutant cells and cortical neurons expressing Q104-GFP was prevented by pre-treatment with cyclosporine A (CsA) but not by FK506 (an inhibitor of calcineurin), indicating a potential role for mPTP opening in the mitochondrial dysfunction induced by calcium stress in mutant huntingtin cells.
Conclusions: Expression of mutant huntingtin alters mitochondrial and cell viability through mPTP opening in striatal cells and cortical neurons.