Retinal ganglion cell neurodegeneration in mitochondrial inherited disorders

Valerio Carelli, Chiara La Morgia, Maria Lucia Valentino, Piero Barboni, Fred N. Ross-Cisneros, Alfredo A. Sadun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Since the early days of mitochondrial medicine, it has been clear that optic atrophy is a very common and sometimes the singular pathological feature in mitochondrial disorders. The first point mutation of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) associated with the maternally inherited blinding disorder, Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON), was recognized in 1988. In 2000, the other blinding disorder, dominant optic atrophy (DOA) Kjer type, was found associated with mutations in the nuclear gene OPA1 that encodes a mitochondrial protein. Besides these two non-syndromic optic neuropathies, optic atrophy is a prominent feature in many other neurodegenerative diseases that are now recognized as due to primary mitochondrial dysfunction. We will consider mtDNA based syndromes such as LHON/dystonia/Mitochondrial Encephalomyopahty Lactic Acidosis Stroke-like (MELAS)/Leigh overlapping syndrome, or nuclear based diseases such as Friedreich ataxia (mutations in FXN gene), deafness-dystonia-optic atrophy (Mohr-Tranebjerg) syndrome (mutations in TIMM8A), complicated hereditary spastic paraplegia (mutations in SPG7), DOA "plus" syndromes (mutations in OPA1), Charcot-Marie-Tooth type 2A (CMT2A) with optic atrophy or hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy type VI (HMSN VI) (mutations in MFN2), and Costeff syndrome and DOA with cataract (mutations in OPA3). Thus, genetic errors in both nuclear and mitochondrial genomes often lead to retinal ganglion cell death, a specific target for mitochondrial mediated neurodegeneration. Many mechanisms have been studied and proposed as the bases for the pathogenesis of mitochondrial optic neuropathies including bioenergetic failure, oxidative stress, glutamate toxicity, abnormal mitochondrial dynamics and axonal transport, and susceptibility to apoptosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)518-528
Number of pages11
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Bioenergetics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2009


  • Complex I
  • DOA
  • LHON
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Neurodegeneration
  • OPA1
  • Optic nerve
  • Optic neuropathy
  • Retinal ganglion cell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Biophysics
  • Cell Biology


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