Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune demyelinating disorder of the CNS, characterized by inflammatory lesions and an underlying neurodegenerative process, which is more prominent in patients with progressive disease course. It has been proposed that mitochondrial dysfunction underlies neuronal damage, the precise mechanism by which this occurs remains uncertain. To investigate potential mechanisms of neurodegeneration, we conducted a functional screening of mitochondria in neurons exposed to the CSF of multiple sclerosis patients with a relapsing remitting (n = 15) or a progressive (secondary, n = 15 or primary, n = 14) disease course. Live-imaging of CSF-treated neurons, using a fluorescent mitochondrial tracer, identified mitochondrial elongation as a unique effect induced by the CSF from progressive patients. These morphological changes were associated with decreased activity of mitochondrial complexes I, III and IV and correlated with axonal damage. The effect of CSF treatment on the morphology of mitochondria was characterized by phosphorylation of serine 637 on the dynamin-related protein DRP1, a post-translational modification responsible for unopposed mitochondrial fusion in response to low glucose conditions. The effect of neuronal treatment with CSF from progressive patients was heat stable, thereby prompting us to conduct an unbiased exploratory lipidomic study that identified specific ceramide species as differentially abundant in the CSF of progressive patients compared to relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis. Treatment of neurons with medium supplemented with ceramides, induced a time-dependent increase of the transcripts levels of specific glucose and lactate transporters, which functionally resulted in progressively increased glucose uptake from the medium. Thus ceramide levels in the CSF of patients with progressive multiple sclerosis not only impaired mitochondrial respiration but also decreased the bioavailability of glucose by increasing its uptake. Importantly the neurotoxic effect of CSF treatment could be rescued by exogenous supplementation with glucose or lactate, presumably to compensate the inefficient fuel utilization. Together these data suggest a condition of 'virtual hypoglycosis' induced by the CSF of progressive patients in cultured neurons and suggest a critical temporal window of intervention for the rescue of the metabolic impairment of neuronal bioenergetics underlying neurodegeneration in multiple sclerosis patients.
Keywords: axonal damage; clinical progression; lipids; metabolomic; mitochondria.
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