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3D rendering of mitochondrium
3D rendering of mitochondrium

A New Hope for Neurological Disorders

On the Cellular Level

This article was originally published in the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine News Center. It has been modified for Northwestern Medicine’s content hub.

A degenerative disorder is characterized by a progression of symptoms and decrease in function. A breakthrough on the cellular level could offer new hope to people with degenerative neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease.

It starts with an interaction in your cells discovered by Northwestern Medicine Neurologist Dimitri Krainc, MD, PhD.

Mitochondria and lysosomes are two parts of cells found in your body.

  • Mitochondria are the “powerhouses” of your cells: They produce energy.
  • Lysosomes are the “garbage disposals” of your cells: They break down large molecules into waste.

Previously, these two cell components were thought to function separately, but new research shows that they have a substantial amount of interaction to help maintain the environment within the cell, according to a study published in Nature by Dr. Krainc.

Dr. Krainc and his team also published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences (PNAS) about how lysosomes transfer calcium to mitochondria. This is important because in many neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease, the function and activity of mitochondria are disrupted. This discovery provides a blueprint for boosting mitochondrial function for people with neurodegenerative diseases.

“The results from this study, as well as our previous work on mitochondria and lysosome crosstalk, are exciting because they suggest that by modulating lysosomal function, we may also be able to directly promote mitochondrial function,” says Dr. Krainc, who is also director of Northwestern Medicine Simpson Querrey Center for Neurogenetics.

Dr. Krainc and his team are currently investigating this interaction to see whether it can translate to treatment and therapy, specifically for patients with Parkinson’s disease as well as patients with mucolipidosis type IV, a pediatric neurological disorder that affects vision and is known to be caused by a disorder with lysosomes.

“From a therapeutic standpoint, modulators of lysosomal function have garnered attention as potential therapies for neurological disorders,” says Dr. Krainc.