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Background Spinal cord neurons of ALS patients demonstrate reduced cytochrome oxidase histochemical activity, and ALS spinal cord tissues have increased mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) point mutations and depleted mtDNA levels. It is presently unknown whether mtDNA abnormalities are present in single human ALS neurons.
Results Using laser capture microdissection (LCM) we isolated several hundred individual anterior spinal neurons from unfixed, frozen sections of 10 ALS and 7 age-matched CTL cervical spinal cords. DNA from each individual neuron was analyzed with multiplex qPCR for ND2, CO3, and ND4, three mitochondrial DNA genes encoding respiratory proteins. Scatterplots of individual spinal neuron results showed extensive heterogeneity of mtDNA gene levels across 4-5 orders of magnitude that were much more clustered in single Purkinje neurons isolated from CTL cerebella. Plots of ratios of ND4/ND2 and CO3/ND2 showed that many but not all ALS neurons from individuals contained low ratios of these mtDNA genes, implying greater abundances of mtDNA deletions in the major arc. Single CTL cerebellar Purkinje neurons did not contain high levels of apparent mtDNA deletions observed in anterior spinal neurons.
Conclusions At the time of ALS subjects' deaths, many but not all surviving anterior neurons in their cervical spinal cords have reduced mtDNA gene levels and increased mtDNA deletion abundances that arise for unclear reasons. If these anterior spinal neuron mtDNA gene deficiencies contribute to bioenergetic impairments, reduced synaptic function and increased risk of degeneration, then introduction into mitochondria and expression of intact mtDNA, now available through use of recently developed recombinant human TFAM, may reverse the course of ALS.
© 2010 Keeney and Bennett; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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VCU Neurology Publications