Altered dopamine metabolism and increased vulnerability to MPTP in mice with partial deficiency of mitochondrial complex I in dopamine neurons

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A variety of observations support the hypothesis that deficiency of complex I [reduced nicotinamide-adenine dinucleotide (NADH):ubiquinone oxidoreductase] of the mitochondrial respiratory chain plays a role in the pathophysiology of Parkinson's disease (PD). However, recent data from a study using mice with knockout of the complex I subunit NADH:ubiquinone oxidoreductase iron-sulfur protein 4 (Ndufs4) has challenged this concept as these mice show degeneration of non-dopamine neurons. In addition, primary dopamine (DA) neurons derived from such mice, reported to lack complex I activity, remain sensitive to toxins believed to act through inhibition of complex I. We tissue-specifically disrupted the Ndufs4 gene in mouse heart and found an apparent severe deficiency of complex I activity in disrupted mitochondria, whereas oxidation of substrates that result in entry of electrons at the level of complex I was only mildly reduced in intact isolated heart mitochondria. Further analyses of detergent-solubilized mitochondria showed the mutant complex I to be unstable but capable of forming supercomplexes with complex I enzyme activity. The loss of Ndufs4 thus causes only a mild complex I deficiency in vivo. We proceeded to disrupt Ndufs4 in midbrain DA neurons and found no overt neurodegeneration, no loss of striatal innervation and no symptoms of Parkinsonism in tissue-specific knockout animals. However, DA homeostasis was abnormal with impaired DA release and increased levels of DA metabolites. Furthermore, Ndufs4 DA neuron knockouts were more vulnerable to the neurotoxin 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine. Taken together, these findings lend in vivo support to the hypothesis that complex I deficiency can contribute to the pathophysiology of PD.

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