The ATP synthase and the permeability transition in mitochondria

The permeability transition in human mitochondria refers to the opening of a non-specific channel, known as the permeability transition pore (PTP) in the inner membrane. Opening can be triggered by calcium ions, leading to swelling of the organelle, disruption of the inner membrane and ATP synthesis, followed by cell death [1][2]. These events have been linked to pathways leading to cell death, and to human diseases including cardiac ischemia and muscle dystrophy [3]. The opening of the pore can be induced artificially by compounds such as thapsigargin [4], a non-competitive inhibitor of the Ca2+-ATPase in the sarcoplasmic and endoplasmic reticula, and by ionophores for divalent cations such as ionomycin [5], and ferutinin [6]. It can also be inhibited by drugs such as cyclosporin A, mediated via its binding to the prolyl cis-trans isomerase, cyclophilin D, in the mitochondrial matrix[7][8]. Many proposals have been made about the protein constituents of the PTP itself, including the ADP/ATP translocase, an abundant component of the inner membranes of mitochondria, and the voltage dependent anion channel found in the outer membranes of the organelle, but none of these proposals has been established definitively [9][10]. A further proposition, that another component of the inner mitochondrial membrane, the AAA-protease, SPG7, participates in formation of the pore, has been disputed [11][12].

Recently, it has been proposed that the PTP is associated with the ATP synthase complex [13]. Some proposals suggest that the ring of c-subunits that constitute the membrane domain of the enzyme’s rotor provides the pore [14][15][16]. Others suggest that the pore is associated with membrane subunits of the enzyme found in the region of interface between monomers in the dimeric ATP synthase complexes found in mitochondria [13][17].
  • We have tested the proposal that the PTP is associated with the c-subunit by producing a clonal human cell line where all three genes encoding subunit c have been disrupted. The cells are devoid of subunit c, and yet the characteristic properties of the PTP persist. Therefore, the c8-ring of human ATP synthase does not provide the PTP[18].
  • We have also examined ρ0 human cells for the presence of the PTP. These cells have no mitochondrial DNA, and therefore the ATP6 and ATP8 membrane subunits of the ATP synthase are absent from their mitochondria. The PTP persists in these cells also. Therefore, the ATP6 and ATP8 subunits do not provide the PTP[18].
  • We are continuing to examine the possible involvement of other subunits of the ATP synthase in the PTP.


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