25 February 2008

Return to Mitochondria

Mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell. If the mitochondria are not healthy, the cell will not be healthy. Drug researchers are beginning to make the connection between drug candidates and mitochondrial health. This dawning awareness should lead to some startling developments in treatments for degenerative diseases such as diabetes--perhaps even for chronic fatigue syndrome. Researchers should also now be able to better avoid new drugs that cause side effects due to induced mitochondrial dysfunction.
Mootha and his team zeroed in on five basic features of mitochondria activity, looking at how a library of 2,500 chemical compounds affected mitochondrial toxic byproducts (like all “chemical factories” mitochondria produce their own toxic waste), energy levels, speed with which substances pass through these organelles, membrane voltage, and expression of key mitochondrial and nuclear genes. (Mitochondria contain their own genome, consisting of approximately 37 genes in humans.)

It’s just like taking your car in for an engine diagnostic,” explains Mootha. “The mechanic will probe the battery, the exhaust system, the fan belt, etc., and as a result will then produce a read-out for the entire system. That’s analogous to what we’ve done.”

As a result of these investigations, Mootha and his group produced three major findings.

First, the team discovered a pathway by which the mitochondria and the cell’s nuclear genome communicate with each other. They found this by discovering that certain drugs actually broke communication between these two genomes. By reverse engineering the drugs’ toxic effects, they may be able to reconstruct normal function.

Second, the team looked at a class of the cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins. Roughly 100 million Americans take statins, and among that group, about 1 million experience muscle cramping and aches. Previous studies suggested that mitochondria were involved, but clinical evidence remained conflicting. Mootha and his colleagues found that three out of the six statins (Fluvastatin, Lovastatin, and Simvastatin) interfered with mitochondria energy levels, as did the blood-pressure drug Propranolol. When combined, the effect was worse.

“It’s likely that a fair number of patients with heart disease are on one of these three statins as well as Propranolol,” says Mootha, “Our cellular studies predict that these patients might be at a higher risk for developing the muscle cramps. Obviously, this is only a hypothesis, but now this is easily testable.”

The third and arguably most clinically relevant finding builds on a paper Mootha coauthored in 2003, a paper that demonstrated how type 2 diabetes was linked to a decrease in the expression of mitochondrial genes. A subsequent and unrelated paper showed a relationship between type 2 diabetes and an increase in mitochondrial toxic byproducts. Mootha’s group decided to query their toolkit and see if there were any drugs that affected both of these functions, drugs that could boost gene expression while reducing mitochondrial waste.

Indeed, they found six compounds that did just that, five of which were known to perturb the cell’s cytoskeleton, that is, the scaffolding that gives a cell its structure.

“Our data shows that when we disrupt the cytoskeleton of the cell, that sends a message to boost the mitochondria, turning on gene expression and dropping the toxic byproducts,” says Mootha. “The connection between the cytoskeleton and mitochondrial gene expression has never been shown before and could be very important to basic cell biology.”

Of the five drugs that did this, one, called Deoxysappanone, is found in green tea and is known to have anti-diabetic effects. Another, called Mebendazole, is used for treating intestinal worm infections. This connection gives a rationale to case reports in which diabetics treated with Mebendazole have described improvements in their glucose levels while on the drug.

The researchers intend to further investigate some of the basic biological questions that this study has raised, foremost being the relationship between the cytoskeleton and mitochondria. They also plan on using this toolkit to develop strategies for restoring normal mitochondrial function in certain metabolic and neurodegenerative conditions where it has broken down.

Nature Biotechnology, February 24, early online edition___Newswise
The connection between mitochondrial health and many other common degenerative diseases--besides diabetes--is there, waiting to be sorted out. Effective treatment for mitochondrial dysfunction is apt to be most widely applicable to a wide range of diseases which were formerly believed to be unrelated to each other.

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Blogger IConrad said...

I remain in anticipation of the day wherein we learn to integrate magnetochemical and infrachemical reactors into the physiognomy of human cells. (That is, develop a form of von neumann machines that replicate solely within a cellular environment and introduce chemical potential energy converted from infrared and/or electromagnetic energy.

Think electromotors that 'recharge' chemical batteries in the form of glucose, operating alongside/ in lieu of mitochondria.

Should be an endlessly fascinating state of affairs, if you ask me.

Monday, 25 February, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

I like the idea of artificial mitochondria, although I am not exactly certain how I would design such a thing. Nanotech will probably achieve it within 30 years.

Aubrey de Grey's idea of placing mitochondrial genes into the cell nucleus, and providing modifications that allow the proteins to get back in the mitochondria where they need to be, is complex enough for me. If it works, it may prolong mitochondrial viability (and tissue vitality) for decades beyond the norm.

Several approaches to providing longer-lived, more efficient mitochondria are competing with each other. That's fine with me.

Monday, 25 February, 2008  
Blogger IConrad said...

Wither the Market Goes, Goes Success? Heh.

Tuesday, 26 February, 2008  

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