Indexed on: 19 Feb '11Published on: 19 Feb '11Published in: Autoimmune diseases
Mitochondria are the most efficient producers of energy in the form of ATP. Energy demands of axons, placed at relatively great distances from the neuronal cell body, are met by mitochondria, which when functionally compromised, produce reactive oxygen species (ROS) in excess. Axons are made metabolically efficient by myelination, which enables saltatory conduction. The importance of mitochondria for maintaining the structural integrity of myelinated axons is illustrated by neuroaxonal degeneration in primary mitochondrial disorders. When demyelinated, the compartmentalisation of ion channels along axons is disrupted. The redistribution of electrogenic machinery is thought to increase the energy demand of demyelinated axons. We review related studies that focus on mitochondria within unmyelinated, demyelinated and dysmyelinated axons in the central nervous system. Based on neuropathological observations we propose the increase in mitochondrial presence within demyelinated axons as an adaptive process to the increased energy need. An increased presence of mitochondria would also increase the capacity to produce deleterious agents such as ROS when functionally compromised. Given the lack of direct evidence of a beneficial or harmful effect of mitochondrial changes, the precise role of increased mitochondrial presence within axons due to demyelination needs to be further explored in experimental demyelination in-vivo and in-vitro.