Evidence for Compartmentalized Axonal Mitochondrial Biogenesis: Mitochondrial DNA Replication Increases in Distal Axons As an Early Response to Parkinson's Disease-Relevant Stress

J Neurosci. 2018 Aug 22;38(34):7505-7515. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0541-18.2018. Epub 2018 Jul 20.


Dysregulation of mitochondrial biogenesis is implicated in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease (PD). However, it is not clear how mitochondrial biogenesis is regulated in neurons, with their unique compartmentalized anatomy and energetic demands. This is particularly relevant in PD because selectively vulnerable neurons feature long, highly arborized axons where degeneration initiates. We previously found that exposure of neurons to chronic, sublethal doses of rotenone, a complex I inhibitor linked to PD, causes early increases in mitochondrial density specifically in distal axons, suggesting possible upregulation of mitochondrial biogenesis within axons. Here, we directly evaluated for evidence of mitochondrial biogenesis in distal axons and examined whether PD-relevant stress causes compartmentalized alterations. Using BrdU labeling and imaging to quantify replicating mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in primary rat neurons (pooled from both sexes), we provide evidence of mtDNA replication in axons along with cell bodies and proximal dendrites. We found that exposure to chronic, sublethal rotenone increases mtDNA replication first in neurites and later extending to cell bodies, complementing our mitochondrial density data. Further, isolating axons from cell bodies and dendrites, we discovered that rotenone exposure upregulates mtDNA replication in distal axons. Utilizing superresolution stimulated emission depletion (STED) imaging, we identified mtDNA replication at sites of mitochondrial-endoplasmic reticulum contacts in axons. Our evidence suggests that mitochondrial biogenesis occurs not only in cell bodies, but also in distal axons, and is altered under PD-relevant stress conditions in an anatomically compartmentalized manner. We hypothesize that this contributes to vulnerability in neurodegenerative diseases.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Mitochondrial biogenesis is crucial for maintaining mitochondrial and cellular health and has been linked to neurodegenerative disease pathogenesis. However, regulation of this process is poorly understood in CNS neurons, which rely on mitochondrial function for survival. Our findings offer fundamental insight into these regulatory mechanisms by demonstrating that replication of mitochondrial DNA, an essential precursor for biogenesis, can occur in distal regions of CNS neuron axons independent of the soma. Further, this process is upregulated specifically in axons as an early response to neurodegeneration-relevant stress. This is the first demonstration of the compartmentalized regulation of CNS neuronal mitochondrial biogenesis in response to stress and may prove a useful target in development of therapeutic strategies for neurodegenerative disease.

Keywords: Parkinson's disease; axonal; biogenesis; mitochondrial; neurodegeneration; rotenone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / drug effects
  • Axons / metabolism
  • Axons / ultrastructure*
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • DNA Replication* / drug effects
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / biosynthesis*
  • Electron Transport Complex I / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Electron Transport Complex I / metabolism
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / analysis
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Mitochondria / ultrastructure
  • Mitochondrial Dynamics / drug effects
  • Mitochondrial Proton-Translocating ATPases / analysis
  • Neurites / drug effects
  • Neurites / ultrastructure
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Organelle Biogenesis*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Parkinson Disease / metabolism*
  • Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma Coactivator 1-alpha / analysis
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Rotenone / toxicity
  • Uncoupling Agents / toxicity


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma Coactivator 1-alpha
  • Uncoupling Agents
  • Rotenone
  • Electron Transport Complex IV
  • Mitochondrial Proton-Translocating ATPases
  • Electron Transport Complex I