Cells. 2023 Oct 20;12(20):2496. doi: 10.3390/cells12202496.
Mitochondrial dysfunction in astrocytes has been implicated in the development of various neurological disorders. Mitophagy, mitochondrial autophagy, is required for proper mitochondrial function by preventing the accumulation of damaged mitochondria. The importance of mitophagy, specifically in the astrocytes of the optic nerve (ON), has been little studied. We introduce an animal model in which two separate mutations act synergistically to produce severe ON degeneration. The first mutation is in Cryba1, which encodes βA3/A1-crystallin, a lens protein also expressed in astrocytes, where it regulates lysosomal pH. The second mutation is in Bckdk, which encodes branched-chain ketoacid dehydrogenase kinase, which is ubiquitously expressed in the mitochondrial matrix and involved in the catabolism of the branched-chain amino acids. BCKDK is essential for mitochondrial function and the amelioration of oxidative stress. Neither of the mutations in isolation has a significant effect on the ON, but animals homozygous for both mutations (DM) exhibit very serious ON degeneration. ON astrocytes from these double-mutant (DM) animals have lysosomal defects, including impaired mitophagy, and dysfunctional mitochondria. Urolithin A can rescue the mitophagy impairment in DM astrocytes and reduce ON degeneration. These data demonstrate that efficient mitophagy in astrocytes is required for ON health and functional integrity.