A defect in the mitochondrial complex III, but not complex IV, triggers early ROS-dependent damage in defined brain regions

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We have created two neuron-specific mouse models of mitochondrial electron transport chain deficiencies involving defects in complex III (CIII) or complex IV (CIV). These conditional knockouts (cKOs) were created by ablation of the genes coding for the Rieske iron–sulfur protein (RISP) and COX10, respectively. RISP is one of the catalytic subunits of CIII and COX10 is an assembly factor indispensable for the maturation of Cox1, one of the catalytic subunits of CIV. Although the rates of gene deletion, protein loss and complex dysfunction were similar, the RISP cKO survived 3.5 months of age, whereas the COX10 cKO survived for 10–12 months. The RISP cKO had a sudden death, with minimal behavioral changes. In contrast, the COX10 cKO showed a distinctive behavioral phenotype with onset at 4 months of age followed by a slower but progressive neurodegeneration. Curiously, the piriform and somatosensory cortices were more vulnerable to the CIII defect whereas cingulate cortex and to a less extent piriform cortex were affected preferentially by the CIV defect. In addition, the CIII model showed severe and early reactive oxygen species damage, a feature not observed until very late in the pathology of the CIV model. These findings illustrate how specific respiratory chain defects have distinct molecular mechanisms, leading to distinct pathologies, akin to the clinical heterogeneity observed in patients with mitochondrial diseases.

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