The experience of psychological stress triggers neuroendocrine, inflammatory, metabolic, and transcriptional perturbations that ultimately predispose to disease. However, the subcellular determinants of this integrated, multisystemic stress response have not been defined. Central to stress adaptation is cellular energetics, involving mitochondrial energy production and oxidative stress. We therefore hypothesized that abnormal mitochondrial functions would differentially modulate the organism's multisystemic response to psychological stress. By mutating or deleting mitochondrial genes encoded in the mtDNA [NADH dehydrogenase 6 (ND6) and cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI)] or nuclear DNA [adenine nucleotide translocator 1 (ANT1) and nicotinamide nucleotide transhydrogenase (NNT)], we selectively impaired mitochondrial respiratory chain function, energy exchange, and mitochondrial redox balance in mice. The resulting impact on physiological reactivity and recovery from restraint stress were then characterized. We show that mitochondrial dysfunctions altered the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, sympathetic adrenal-medullary activation and catecholamine levels, the inflammatory cytokine IL-6, circulating metabolites, and hippocampal gene expression responses to stress. Each mitochondrial defect generated a distinct whole-body stress-response signature. These results demonstrate the role of mitochondrial energetics and redox balance as modulators of key pathophysiological perturbations previously linked to disease. This work establishes mitochondria as stress-response modulators, with implications for understanding the mechanisms of stress pathophysiology and mitochondrial diseases.
Keywords: HPA axis; catecholamines; hippocampus; mitochondria; stress reactivity.