Popular Science Presentation

Mitochondria are intracellular organelles that are essential for many cellular functions that regulate cell survival and cell death. Thus, dysregulation of mitochondria may lead to cell death and disease. Death of neurons (neurodegeneration) contributes to the development of devastating ailments, such as Huntington’s disease, a hereditary progressively deteriorating condition characterized by uncoordinated and involuntary movement and dementia, with no known cure.

Mitochondrial function is maintained by dynamic fission and fusion events, opposing processes of mitochondria dividing (fission) and joining together into larger structures (fusion). This constant cycle is controlled by various different proteins that specifically bind to mitochondrial membranes to modify their shapes. Exactly how these proteins control mitochondrial behaviour is not fully understood. Our lab studies how these proteins interact with mitochondrial membranes to promote fission and fusion using a variety of various methods, including cryo-electron microscopy. Cryo-electron microscopy has the power to reveal very detailed information of molecules, like proteins or protein-lipid complexes. We use this technique and others to reveal in great detail the organization of proteins that modulate mitochondrial membrane shape to increase our understanding of cellular events that lead to neuronal cell death or survival. Our goal is to describe novel cellular mechanisms and to identify potential molecular targets for drug development and prevention of catastrophic neurodegenerative diseases like Huntington’s disease.

The balance of fission and fusion maintenance mitochondrial health (from Itoh et al, 2013, Trends in Cell Biology).

Last modified: 2021-10-06