However, that is only part of the process, says Charleen T. Chu, M.D., Ph.D., professor and the A. Julio Martinez Chair in Neuropathology in the Pitt School of Medicine's Department of Pathology, another senior author of the study. "It's not just the turkey timer going off; it's a question of who's holding the hot mitt to bring it to the dining room?" That turns out to be a protein called LC3. One part of LC3 binds to cardiolipin, and LC3 causes a specialized structure to form around the mitochondrion to carry it to the digestive centers of the cell.
The research arose nearly a decade ago when Dr. Kagan had a conversation with Dr. Chu at a research conference. Dr. Chu, who studies autophagy, or "self-eating," in Parkinson's disease, was seeking a change on the mitochondrial surface that could signal to LC3 to bring in the damaged organelle for recycling. It turned out they were working on different sides of the same puzzle.
Together with Hlya Bayır, M.D., research director of pediatric critical care medicine, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and professor, Pitt's Department of Critical Care Medicine, and a team of nearly two dozen scientists, the three senior authors worked out how the pieces of the mitochondria signaling problem fit together.
Now that they've worked out the basic mechanism, many more research directions will likely follow, said Dr. Chu.
"There are so many follow-up questions," she said. "What is the process that triggers the cardiolipin to move outside the mitochondria? How does this pathway fit in with other pathways that affect onset of diseases like Parkinson's? Interestingly, two familial Parkinson's disease genes also are linked to mitochondrial removal."
Dr. Bayir explained that while this process may happen in all cells with mitochondria, it is particularly important that it functions correctly in neuronal cells because these cells do not divide and regenerate as readily as
|Contact: Allison Hydzik|
University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences