Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Usachev, Yuriy

First Committee Member

Green, Steven

Second Committee Member

Lee, Gloria

Third Committee Member

Mohapatra, Durga

Fourth Committee Member

Strack, Stefan


Mitochondrial Ca2+ buffering is an important physiological modulator of neuronal signaling and bioenergetics, but this propensity toward Ca2+ regulation proves pathological during excitotoxic insult. Specifically, excessive mitochondrial Ca2+ uptake is a key component of glutamate toxicity within the penumbra surrounding the ischemic core following stroke. This mitochondrial toxicity and Ca2+ dyshomeostasis may be visualized in real time as delayed calcium deregulation (DCD). DCD is a predictor of neuronal, excitoxic death, and is composed of three phases: 1) an initial response; 2) a latent period of elevated, but stable cytosolic Ca2+; and 3) failure of mitochondrial Ca2+ retention, termed deregulation. The duration of the latent period is an index of neuronal resistance.

Mitochondria are dynamic organelles that rapidly and reversibly undergo fission and fusion (MFF). MFF is tightly regulated by the phosphoregulation of fission inducing Drp1 at serine 656. Drp1-S656 phosphorelation is mediated by PKA/AKAP1, and it is dephosphorylated by PP2A/Bβ2. Phosphorylation of Drp1-S656 inactivates this contractile GTPase resulting in inhibition of mitochondrial fission and a shift toward elongated mitochondria. This PKA/AKAP1 dependent Drp1-S656 phosphorylation has proven to be neuroprotective. Likewise, attenuation of PP2A/Bβ2 signaling enhances neuronal survival during ischemia and excitotoxic insult.

Based on the mitochondrial buffering role in excitotoxicity and MFF modulation of neuronal survival, we began investigating the role of Ca2+ buffering as a function of MFF during glutamate toxicity. Noted above, resistance to excitoticity is visualized by the duration of the DCD latent period. Overexpression of AKAP1 in cultured hippocampal neurons greatly prolonged DCD latency in a PKA dependent manner, while Bβ2 ablation prolonged DCD latency by hours. Pharmacological modulation of PKA required PDE4 inhibition to reproduce the AKAP1 observations. Preliminary experiments studying the effect of Bβ2 overexpression on matrix Ca2+ load suggests possible mechanism of MFF regulated of matrix Ca2+ accumulation. Using mtPericam DRG neurons as a model system for individual mitochondrial Ca2+ recording, we discovered impaired extrusion kinetics in mitochondria fragmented by both Drp1 and Bβ2 overexpression. Ca2+ uptake was comparable to that of control. Extreme elongation of mitochondria via dominant negative Drp1-K38A enhanced recovery.

Understanding these observations, however, requires knowledge of the mitochondrial Ca2+ buffering mechanism. Mitochondrial uptake candidates include MCU and ccdc109b. Our neuronal characterization of MCU confirms a role in mitochondrial Ca2+ buffering, but not a requirement; other components must be involved. Ccdc109b remains an inconclusive candidate, but may be an important regulator of MCU. Mitochondrial efflux transporters include Letm1 and NCLX. Though Letm1 observations are hindered by control artifact, preliminary evidence supports a role in extrusion. The role of NCLX is complicated by possible tissue specificity. Functional expression experiments utilizing Na+ free Li+ external solution suggests absence of NCLX in hippocampal neurons; DRG neurons were capable of Li+ exchange. The above observations confirm the significance of mitochondrial Ca2+ extrusion in neuronal survival. Understanding the mechanisms and regulation of mitochondrial Ca2+ transport has the potential to provide novel therapeutic targets in pathologies of excitotoxic etiology.


Calcium, Excitotoxicity, Fission, Fusion, Mitochondria, Uniporter


xvii, 153 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 131-153).


Copyright 2013 Patrick Ryan Houlihan

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