The Dictyostelium model for mitochondrial disease Academic Article uri icon


  • Mitochondrial diseases are a diverse family of genetic disorders caused by mutations affecting mitochondrial proteins encoded in either the nuclear or the mitochondrial genome. By impairing mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation, they compromise cellular energy production and the downstream consequences in humans are a bewilderingly complex array of signs and symptoms that can affect any of the major organ systems in unpredictable combinations. This complexity and unpredictability has limited our understanding of the cytopathological consequences of mitochondrial dysfunction. By contrast, in Dictyostelium the mitochondrial disease phenotypes are consistent, measurable "readouts" of dysregulated intracellular signalling pathways. When the underlying genetic defects would produce coordinate, generalized deficiencies in multiple mitochondrial respiratory complexes, the disease phenotypes are mediated by chronic activation of an energy-sensing protein kinase, AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). This chronic AMPK hyperactivity maintains mitochondrial mass and cellular ATP concentrations at normal levels, but chronically impairs growth, cell cycle progression, multicellular development, photosensory and thermosensory signal transduction. It also causes the cells to support greater proliferation of the intracellular bacterial pathogen, Legionella pneumophila. Notably however, phagocytic and macropinocytic nutrient uptake are impervious both to AMPK signalling and to these types of mitochondrial dysfunction. Surprisingly, a Complex I-specific deficiency (midA knockout) not only causes the foregoing AMPK-mediated defects, but also produces a dramatic deficit in endocytic nutrient uptake accompanied by an additional secondary defect in growth. More restricted and specific phenotypic outcomes are produced by knocking out genes for nuclear-encoded mitochondrial proteins that are not required for respiration. The Dictyostelium model for mitochondrial disease has thus revealed consistent patterns of sublethal dysregulation of intracellular signalling pathways that are produced by different types of underlying mitochondrial dysfunction.

publication date

  • February 2011