During neurodegenerative disease, the toxic accumulation of aggregates and misfolded proteins is often accompanied with widespread changes in peripheral metabolism, even in cells in which the aggregating protein is not present. The mechanism by which the central nervous system elicits a distal reaction to proteotoxic stress remains unknown. We hypothesized that the endocrine communication of neuronal stress plays a causative role in the changes in mitochondrial homeostasis associated with proteotoxic disease states. We find that an aggregation-prone protein expressed in the neurons of C. elegans binds to mitochondria, eliciting a global induction of a mitochondrial-specific unfolded protein response (UPR(mt)), affecting whole-animal physiology. Importantly, dense core vesicle release and secretion of the neurotransmitter serotonin is required for the signal's propagation. Collectively, these data suggest the commandeering of a nutrient sensing network to allow for cell-to-cell communication between mitochondria in response to protein folding stress in the nervous system.
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