NDUFS4 deletion triggers loss of NDUFA12 in Ndufs4 -/- mice and Leigh syndrome patients: A stabilizing role for NDUFAF2

Biochim Biophys Acta Bioenerg. 2020 Aug 1;1861(8):148213. doi: 10.1016/j.bbabio.2020.148213. Epub 2020 Apr 23.


Mutations in NDUFS4, which encodes an accessory subunit of mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) complex I (CI), induce Leigh syndrome (LS). LS is a poorly understood pediatric disorder featuring brain-specific anomalies and early death. To study the LS pathomechanism, we here compared OXPHOS proteomes between various Ndufs4-/- mouse tissues. Ndufs4-/- animals displayed significantly lower CI subunit levels in brain/diaphragm relative to other tissues (liver/heart/kidney/skeletal muscle), whereas other OXPHOS subunit levels were not reduced. Absence of NDUFS4 induced near complete absence of the NDUFA12 accessory subunit, a 50% reduction in other CI subunit levels, and an increase in specific CI assembly factors. Among the latter, NDUFAF2 was most highly increased. Regarding NDUFS4, NDUFA12 and NDUFAF2, identical results were obtained in Ndufs4-/- mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) and NDUFS4-mutated LS patient cells. Ndufs4-/- MEFs contained active CI in situ but blue-native-PAGE highlighted that NDUFAF2 attached to an inactive CI subcomplex (CI-830) and inactive assemblies of higher MW. In NDUFA12-mutated LS patient cells, NDUFA12 absence did not reduce NDUFS4 levels but triggered NDUFAF2 association to active CI. BN-PAGE revealed no such association in LS patient fibroblasts with mutations in other CI subunit-encoding genes where NDUFAF2 was attached to CI-830 (NDUFS1, NDUFV1 mutation) or not detected (NDUFS7 mutation). Supported by enzymological and CI in silico structural analysis, we conclude that absence of NDUFS4 induces near complete absence of NDUFA12 but not vice versa, and that NDUFAF2 stabilizes active CI in Ndufs4-/- mice and LS patient cells, perhaps in concert with mitochondrial inner membrane lipids.

Keywords: Fibroblasts; Leigh syndrome; NADH:ubiquinone oxidoreductase; Proteomics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electron Transport Complex I / deficiency*
  • Electron Transport Complex I / genetics*
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Gene Deletion*
  • Gene Knockout Techniques
  • Humans
  • Leigh Disease / genetics*
  • Leigh Disease / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Molecular Chaperones / metabolism*
  • NADPH Dehydrogenase / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation
  • Protein Stability


  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • Molecular Chaperones
  • NDUFA12 protein, human
  • NDUFAF2 protein, human
  • NADPH Dehydrogenase
  • Electron Transport Complex I
  • NDUFS4 protein, human