June 16, 2014
Neurons Transfer Old Mitochondria To Glia Cells

Mitochondria, subcellular organelles that break down sugar to provide energy, develop mutations in their DNA that make some of them become dysfunctional as we grow older.

It's broadly assumed that cells degrade and recycle their own old or damaged organelles, but researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Kennedy Krieger Institute have discovered that some neurons transfer unwanted mitochondria the tiny power plants inside cells to supporting glial cells called astrocytes for disposal.

Why I think this is cool: It points the way toward how to rejuvenate nerve cells. How? If mitochondria can flow between neighboring cells from nerves to glia then they can be made to flow in the opposite direction too. Genetically modify cells to go into the brain and sidle up along side nerves. Then transfer fresh young mitochondria into the nerve cells.

If old cells can be given very healthy new mitochondria and also have old mitochondria removed they can get their energy levels boosted back up closer to youthful levels. That would be great.

The mechanism for transferring the mitochondria can eventually be harnessed for therapeutic purposes.

The findings, published in the June 17 online Early Edition of PNAS, suggest some basic biology may need revising, but they also have potential implications for improving the understanding and treatment of many neurodegenerative and metabolic disorders.

"It does call into question the conventional assumption that cells necessarily degrade their own organelles. We don't yet know how generalized this process is throughout the brain, but our work suggests it's probably widespread," said Mark H. Ellisman, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Neurosciences, director of the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research (NCMIR) at UC San Diego and co-senior author of the study with Nicholas Marsh-Armstrong, PhD, in the Department of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University and the Hugo W. Moser Research Institute at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore.

"The discovery of a standard process for transfer of trash from neuron to glia will most likely be very important to understanding age-related declines in function of the brain and neurodegenerative or metabolic disorders," Marsh-Armstrong said. "We expect the impact to be significant in other areas of biomedicine as well."

How about trash collection cells that get the trash tranferred to them which then go into the blood stream and travel to some place (perhaps a specially engineered organ) to deposit the trash? We could develop much better trash disposal systems into implant into the human body.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2014 June 16 09:44 PM 

Doug said at June 17, 2014 10:17 PM:

This is very interesting, Randall. I'm sure you meant to link, as you always do. Did you forget, or have I overlooked a link somewhere? Thanks.

Randall Parker said at July 5, 2014 11:03 AM:

Doug, Sorry about that. I fixed the link.

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