Alternative oxidase blunts pseudohypoxia and photoreceptor degeneration due to RPE mitochondrial dysfunction

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2024 Jun 18;121(25):e2402384121. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2402384121. Epub 2024 Jun 12.


Loss of mitochondrial electron transport complex (ETC) function in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) in vivo results in RPE dedifferentiation and progressive photoreceptor degeneration, and has been implicated in the pathogenesis of age-related macular degeneration. Xenogenic expression of alternative oxidases in mammalian cells and tissues mitigates phenotypes arising from some mitochondrial electron transport defects, but can exacerbate others. We expressed an alternative oxidase from Ciona intestinalis (AOX) in ETC-deficient murine RPE in vivo to assess the retinal consequences of stimulating coenzyme Q oxidation and respiration without ATP generation. RPE-restricted expression of AOX in this context is surprisingly beneficial. This focused intervention mitigates RPE mTORC1 activation, dedifferentiation, hypertrophy, stress marker expression, pseudohypoxia, and aerobic glycolysis. These RPE cell autonomous changes are accompanied by increased glucose delivery to photoreceptors with attendant improvements in photoreceptor structure and function. RPE-restricted AOX expression normalizes accumulated levels of succinate and 2-hydroxyglutarate in ETC-deficient RPE, and counteracts deficiencies in numerous neural retinal metabolites. These features can be attributed to the activation of mitochondrial inner membrane flavoproteins such as succinate dehydrogenase and proline dehydrogenase, and alleviation of inhibition of 2-oxyglutarate-dependent dioxygenases such as prolyl hydroxylases and epigenetic modifiers. Our work underscores the importance to outer retinal health of coenzyme Q oxidation in the RPE and identifies a metabolic network critical for photoreceptor survival in the context of RPE mitochondrial dysfunction.

PMID:38865272 | DOI:10.1073/pnas.2402384121