Theses Doctoral

Be Eaten to Stay Healthy: Elucidating the Mechanisms of Mitochondrial Quality Control by Mitophagy

de Vries, Rosa Leonora Andrea

Mitochondria are essential organelles that provide the cell with energy and are involved in many housekeeping processes. Maintaining a healthy population of mitochondria is vital for the proper functioning of cells and the presence of dysfunctional mitochondria may lead to cellular damage and cell death. Neurons are particularly susceptible to the consequences of mitochondrial damage as they have high energy needs and are post-mitotic. The clearance of damaged mitochondria by autophagy, or mitophagy, has emerged as an important quality control mechanism. The Parkinson's disease related proteins phosphatase and tensin homolog-induced putative kinase 1 (PINK1) and Parkin have been identified as important regulators of mitophagy in mammalian cells, directly linking mitophagy to neurodegeneration. The role of these two proteins in this mitophagy is further explored in the first part of this dissertation. We propose a model whereby a cleavage product of PINK1 in the cytosol binds Parkin and prevents its translocation to mitochondria, which is regarded as the initiating step in Parkin/PINK1 mitophagy. Upon the occurrence of mitochondrial damage, however, full-length PINK1 accumulates on the mitochondrial outer membrane (MOM) and recruits Parkin, marking the damaged mitochondria for mitophagy. In the second part, we assess mitophagy in a cellular model based on disease caused by mutations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). We find that the mere presence of damaged mitochondria in the cell does not activate mitophagy. Rather, this process is a complex interplay between mitochondrial membrane potential, levels of PINK1/Parkin and the activation of general macroautophagy. The final part of this dissertation describes the development and validation of a new method to study mitophagy. MitophaGFP, a red-green tandem fluorescent protein targeted to the MOM, changes color from yellow to red once mitochondria enter lysosomes, the final step of the mitophagy process. This new probe allows us to quantitatively and qualitatively assess mitophagy and fulfills a need in the mitophagy field. The work described in this dissertation contributes to elucidate the mechanisms underlying mitophagy regulation in mammalian cells. Its findings can serve as a basis to further explore the importance of mitophagy as a quality control mechanism and the role of its defect in neurodegeneration.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Pathobiology and Molecular Medicine
Thesis Advisors
Przedborski, Serge
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 22, 2013