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J Neurochem. 2005 Nov;95(4):930-9. Epub 2005 Aug 10.

The mitochondrial complex I inhibitor rotenone triggers a cerebral tauopathy.

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INSERM U679, Hôpital de la Salpêtrière, Paris, France.


Reduced activity of the mitochondrial respiratory chain--particularly complex I--may be implicated in the etiology of both Parkinson's disease and progressive supranuclear palsy, although these neurodegenerative diseases differ substantially as to their distinctive pattern of neuronal cell loss and the predominance of cerebral alpha-synuclein or tau protein pathology. To determine experimentally whether chronic generalized complex I inhibition has an effect on the distribution of alpha-synuclein or tau, we infused rats systemically with the plant-derived isoflavonoid rotenone. Rotenone-treated rats with a pronounced metabolic impairment had reduced locomotor activity, dystonic limb posture and postural instability. They lost neurons in the substantia nigra and in the striatum. Spherical deposits of alpha-synuclein were observed in a few cells, but cells with abnormal cytoplasmic accumulations of tau immunoreactivity were significantly more numerous in the striatum of severely lesioned rats. Abnormally high levels of tau immunoreactivity were found in the cytoplasm of neurons, oligodendrocytes and astrocytes. Ultrastructurally, tau-immunoreactive material consisted of straight 15-nm filaments decorated by antibodies against phosphorylated tau. Many tau+ cell bodies also stained positive for thioflavin S, nitrotyrosine and ubiquitin. Some cells with abnormal tau immunoreactivity contained activated caspase 3. Our data suggest that chronic respiratory chain dysfunction might trigger a form of neurodegeneration in which accumulation of hyperphosphorylated tau protein predominates over deposits of alpha-synuclein.

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