Hum Mol Genet. 2023 Feb 16:ddad031. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddad031. Online ahead of print.
SURF1 deficiency (OMIM # 220110) causes Leigh syndrome (LS, OMIM # 256000), a mitochondrial disorder typified by stress-induced metabolic strokes, neurodevelopmental regression, and progressive multisystem dysfunction. Here, we describe two novel surf1-/- zebrafish knockout models generated by CRISPR/Cas9 technology. While gross larval morphology, fertility, and survival into adulthood appeared unaffected, surf1-/- mutants manifested adult-onset ocular anomalies and decreased swimming activity, and classical biochemical hallmarks of human SURF1 disease, including reduced complex IV expression and enzymatic activity and increased tissue lactate. surf1-/- larvae also demonstrated oxidative stress and stressor hypersensitivity to the complex IV inhibitor, azide, which exacerbated their complex IV deficiency, reduced supercomplex formation, and induced acute neurodegeneration typical of LS including brain death, impaired neuromuscular responses, reduced swimming activity, and absent heartrate. Remarkably, prophylactic treatment of surf1-/- larvae with either cysteamine bitartrate or N-acetylcysteine, but not other antioxidants, significantly improved animal resiliency to stressor-induced brain death, swimming and neuromuscular dysfunction, and loss of heartbeat. Mechanistic analyses demonstrated cysteamine bitartrate pretreatment did not improve complex IV deficiency, ATP deficiency, or increased tissue lactate but did reduce oxidative stress and restore glutathione balance in surf1-/- animals. Overall, two novel surf1-/- zebrafish models recapitulate the gross neurodegenerative and biochemical hallmarks of LS, including azide stressor hypersensitivity that was associated with glutathione deficiency and ameliorated by cysteamine bitartrate or N-acetylcysteine therapy.