Ph.D. Student Sea Slug Study Reveals Impacts of Mitochondrial Movement

newsFirst-year Integrative Biology Ph.D. student, Kerriann Badal, was published in the journal Cell Reports for her research on mitochondrial movements within cells. The research study is titled, “Synapse Formation Activates a Transcriptional Program for Persistent Enhancement in the Bi-directional Transport of Mitochondria.” Kerriann is first author alongside Sathya Puthanveettil, Ph.D., an associate professor at Scripps Research and senior author of the study.

Sending messages across neurons in the brain requires a lot of energy - that energy is provided by mitochondria, which power a number of activities within a cell. If the mitochondria aren’t functioning properly the energy required to send the message across neurons isn’t available and the process is disrupted, leaving that thought or signal from the brain stranded. To better understand this process, the researchers used sea slugs to study mitochondrial movement in cells because of their large neurons, making it easier to observe neuronal signals.

Kerriann explains, “We looked at normal mitochondrial trafficking patterns and the transcriptome of neurons with and without functional synaptic connections. This is important because the more we understand mitochondrial functions within healthy cells, the better we can understand what is not healthy, and better understand mitochondria-related disorders.”

The study found that “defects in the transport of mitochondria are a suspected cause of diseases including Alzheimer's, ALS, Huntington's and Parkinson's.” The researchers are interested in potential drugs that may be able to assist with mitochondrial transport to combat these neurodegenerative diseases.