Despite considerable knowledge on the genetic basis of mitochondrial disorders, their pathophysiological consequences remain poorly understood. We previously used two-dimensional difference gel electrophoresis analyses to define a protein profile characteristic for respiratory chain complex III-deficiency that included a significant overexpression of cytosolic gelsolin (GSN), a cytoskeletal protein that regulates the severing and capping of the actin filaments. Biochemical and immunofluorescence assays confirmed a specific increase of GSN levels in the mitochondria from patients' fibroblasts and from transmitochondrial cybrids with complex III assembly defects. A similar effect was obtained in control cells upon treatment with antimycin A in a dose-dependent manner, showing that the enzymatic inhibition of complex III is sufficient to promote the mitochondrial localization of GSN. Mitochondrial subfractionation showed the localization of GSN to the mitochondrial outer membrane, where it interacts with the voltage-dependent anion channel protein 1 (VDAC1). In control cells, VDAC1 was present in five stable oligomeric complexes, which showed increased levels and a modified distribution pattern in the complex III-deficient cybrids. Downregulation of GSN expression induced cell death in both cell types, in parallel with the specific accumulation of VDAC1 dimers and the release of mitochondrial cytochrome c into the cytosol, indicating a role for GSN in the oligomerization of VDAC complexes and in the prevention of apoptosis. Our results demonstrate that respiratory chain complex III dysfunction induces the physiological upregulation and mitochondrial location of GSN, probably to promote cell survival responses through the modulation of the oligomeric state of the VDAC complexes.
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