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J Neurochem. 2007 Jan;100(1):142-53. Epub 2006 Oct 25.

Mitochondrial damage modulates alternative splicing in neuronal cells: implications for neurodegeneration.

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Department of Experimental Neurosciences, European Centre for Brain Research, Fondazione Santa Lucia IRCCS, Rome, Italy.


Mitochondrial damage is linked to many neurodegenerative conditions, such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. These diseases are associated with changes in the splicing pattern of individual mRNAs. Here, we tested the hypothesis that mitochondrial damage modulates alternative splicing, not only of a few mRNAs, but in a general manner. We incubated cultured human neuroblastoma cells with the chemical agent paraquat (a neurotoxin that interferes with mitochondrial function, causing energy deficit and oxidative stress) and analysed the splicing pattern of 13 genes by RT-PCR. For all mRNAs that are alternatively spliced, we observed a dose- and time-dependent increase of the smaller isoforms. In contrast, splicing of all constitutive splicing exons that we monitored did not change. Using other drugs, we show that the modulation of alternative splicing correlates with ATP depletion, not with oxidative stress. Such drastic changes in alternative splicing are not observed in cell lines of non-neuronal origin, suggesting a selective susceptibility of neuronal cells to modulation of splicing. As a significant percentage of all mammalian mRNAs undergo alternative splicing, we predict that mitochondrial failure will unbalance a vast number of isoform equilibriums, which would give an important contribution to neurodegeneration.

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