Genetic mouse models for Parkinson's disease display severe pathology in glial cell mitochondria

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We recently described mitochondrial pathology in neurons of transgenic mice with genes associated with Parkinson's disease (PD). Now we describe severe mitochondrial damage in glial cells of the mesencephalon in mice carrying a targeted deletion of parkin (PaKO) or overexpressing doubly mutated human alpha-synuclein (asyn). The number of mitochondria with altered morphology in glial cells is cell type-dependent, but always higher than in neurons. Interestingly, mitochondrial damage also occurs in mesencephalic glia of mice carrying mutated asyn controlled by the tyrosine hydroxylase promoter. Such mice do not show glial expression of the transgene, but show expression in neighboring neurons. However, we found strong overexpression of endogenous asyn in mesencephalic astrocytes from these mice. Cortical astrocytes neither display enhanced asyn expression nor mitochondrial damage. Cultivated mesencephalic astrocytes from newborn transgenic mice display various functional defects along with the morphological damage of mitochondria. First, the mitochondrial Ca2+-storage capacity is reduced in asyn transgenic mesencephalic astrocytes, but not in astrocytes from PaKO. Second, the expression of the mitochondrial protein PTEN-induced putative kinase is constitutively increased in asyn transgenic mice, while in PaKO it reacts to oxidative stress by overexpressing this protein along with other mitochondria-related proteins. Third, the neurotrophic effects exerted by control astrocytes, stimulating cortical neurons from healthy mice to develop longer processes and larger neuronal areas, are lacking in co-cultures with transgenic mesencephalic astrocytes. In summary, glial mitochondria from transgenic mice display morphological and functional alterations. Such transgenic astrocytes fail to influence neuronal differentiation, reflecting an important role that glia may play in PD pathogenesis.

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