Science has a good understanding of mitochondria’s role as the central powerhouses of human cells, but what role do the play in ageing and neurological disorders? Is mitochondrial dysfunction a risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases and the overall health of the human brain?

At the 2019 Mindd Forum, there will be a particular focus on mitochondrial health. The brilliant practitioner guest speakers Dr Nancy O’Hara, Dr Liz Mumper and Dr Robert Naviaux are highly knowledgeable in this area and will be revealing clinical insights to improve the health of all patients at a cellular level.

Is there a Link Between Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Neurological Disorders?

Mitochondria are mostly responsible for processing food, which, when combined with the oxygen we breathe, generate energy known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Most living organisms then derive their energy from this ingested food through a series of metabolic and cellular processes.

Thus, mitochondria are vitally responsible for providing the body’s energy currency. Disturbances to the process of mitochondria providing energy result in altered innate function and have been identified as a key area in the pathogenesis of many human diseases.

Neurological conditions are not immune to this. As mitochondria are critical regulators of cell death, reduced mitochondrial function then has a key role in neurodegeneration. Ageing is also a large risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases and mutations in mitochondrial DNA and oxidative stress contribute to ageing.

What Changes can Mitochondrial Dysfunction Induce in the Human Body?

Mitochondrial dysfunction is a wide-ranging term explaining a number of cellular reactions caused by disturbed energy output. Changes that can occur due to disturbed mitochondrial health include:

  • reduced energy production
  • increased output of reduced oxygen species and therefore free radicals
  • altered gene signalling and
  • less control over the quality of a cell

Neurons have a vital requirement for mitochondria to supply ATP and a larger demand for oxygen, meaning they are more susceptible to damage in the case of the mitochondria not functioning optimally. If neurons have lower levels of antioxidant defences, they are exposed to an increased level of free radical damage.

Mitochondria and Depression

There is evidence to suggest mitochondrial dysfunction is associated with depression due to new insights that the pathophysiology of depression may be linked to neuroplasticity and cellular resistance.

Mitochondria’s part in ATP production and cell signalling mean they have an established role in membrane stability, reactive oxygen species balance and to execute the complex processes of neurotransmission. These are all the very things that are now identified as contributors to the pathogenesis of depression.

Enhancing mitochondrial function appears to be a reasonable strategy for the treatment of neuronal function and, therefore, the management of mood disorders. This treatment may be targeted to specific mechanisms of mitochondrial dysfunction such as energy metabolism, synaptic plasticity and the survival of neurons.

Neurological Disorders including Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a disorder associated with intellectual disabilities such as cognitive impairment. Like depression, dysfunctional mitochondria have a significant role in the pathophysiology of PD due to mutations of the mitochondrial genes and oxidative stress.

Since normal functioning of mitochondria is essential for energy requirements and cognitive processes in the brain, the underlying factors that can aggravate the function of mitochondria can, therefore, influence neurodegenerative processes and PD.

Preclinical studies done in different animal models have proven the involvement of mitochondria in the disease pathology and conclude without a doubt that mitochondrial dysfunction is one of the underlying contributors in the cognitive impairment process in PD.

For more specific information on how to look after mitochondria, what causes its dysfunction and to better understand its role in common health conditions, be sure to check out the schedule of the 2019 Mindd Forum here. To continue reading about mitochondria see ‘Mitochondrial Health at a Glance’.

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