Mitochondrial dysfunction in neurons

In last week’s WCMR ‘Research in Progress’ meeting, we heard from Dr Chun Chen who talked about her project that involves using imaging mass cytometry to analyse mitochondrial dysfunction in neurons. Read on to find out more.

The major project of my first postdoctoral position is to optimise a novel imaging technology, called imaging mass cytometry (IMC), for use in human brain samples. This technique uses primary antibodies (similar to those which drive our immune system) which are added to the brain sample on a glass slide. Here, they recognise and bind to individual building blocks (proteins) within each cell.  The antibodies are labelled with very rare metal tags, which can be visualised within the sample. By measuring the amount of these rare metal tags, we can calculate the abundance of different proteins in brain cells (see figure below).

My talk focused on how we are using IMC to answer an important research question: what is the nature of the mitochondrial defect within neurons in Parkinson’s disease?

Defects within mitochondria are thought to be important in the development of Parkinson’s, and the neuron loss which causes the disease. One of the main roles of mitochondria is to generate energy using five protein complexes. The first complex (complex I) has the longest running association with Parkinson’s disease.

The data I presented in my talk included a comprehensive description of the expression of all five complexes in brain cells, and how the amount of these proteins changes in the presence of a mitochondrial defect. I believe my data may provide evidence of a potential response of neurons to mitochondrial defects, in an attempt to survive.