Enhancing mitochondrial activity in neurons protects against neurodegeneration in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis

Elife. 2021 Feb 10;10:e61798. doi: 10.7554/eLife.61798.


While transcripts of neuronal mitochondrial genes are strongly suppressed in central nervous system inflammation, it is unknown whether this results in mitochondrial dysfunction and whether an increase of mitochondrial function can rescue neurodegeneration. Here, we show that predominantly genes of the electron transport chain are suppressed in inflamed mouse neurons, resulting in impaired mitochondrial complex IV activity. This was associated with post-translational inactivation of the transcriptional co-regulator proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator 1-alpha (PGC-1α). In mice, neuronal overexpression of Ppargc1a, which encodes for PGC-1α, led to increased numbers of mitochondria, complex IV activity, and maximum respiratory capacity. Moreover, Ppargc1a-overexpressing neurons showed a higher mitochondrial membrane potential that related to an improved calcium buffering capacity. Accordingly, neuronal deletion of Ppargc1a aggravated neurodegeneration during experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, while neuronal overexpression of Ppargc1a ameliorated it. Our study provides systemic insights into mitochondrial dysfunction in neurons during inflammation and commends elevation of mitochondrial activity as a promising neuroprotective strategy.

Keywords: EAE; Ppargc1a; immunology; inflammation; mitochondria; mouse; multiple sclerosis; neuroprotection; neuroscience; oxidative phosphorylation.

Plain language summary

Multiple sclerosis is a life-long neurological condition that typically begins when people are in their twenties or thirties. Symptoms vary between individuals, and within a single individual over time, but can include difficulties with vision, balance, movement and thinking. These occur because the immune system of people with multiple sclerosis attacks the brain and spinal cord. This immune assault damages neurons and can eventually cause them to die. But exactly how this happens is unclear, and there are no drugs available that can prevent it. One idea is that the immune attack in multiple sclerosis damages neurons by disrupting structures inside them called mitochondria. These cellular ‘organs’, or organelles, produce the energy that all cells need to function correctly. If the mitochondria fail to generate enough energy, the cells can die. And because neurons are very active cells with high energy demands, they are particularly vulnerable to the effects of mitochondrial damage. By studying a mouse version of multiple sclerosis, Rosenkranz et al. now show that mitochondria in the neurons of affected animals are less active than those of healthy control mice. This is because the genes inside mitochondria that enable the organelles to produce energy are less active in the multiple sclerosis mice. Most of these genes that determine mitochondrial activity and energy production are under the control of a single master gene called PGC-1alpha. Rosenkranz et al. showed that boosting the activity of this gene — by introducing extra copies of it into neurons — increases mitochondrial activity in mice. It also makes the animals more resistant to the effects of multiple sclerosis. Boosting the activity of mitochondria in neurons could thus be a worthwhile therapeutic strategy to investigate for multiple sclerosis. Future studies should examine whether drugs that activate PGC-1alpha, for example, could help prevent neuronal death and the resulting symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / prevention & control*
  • Neurons / metabolism*

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE104899

Grants and funding

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.