Mitochondria play key roles in cellular health and metabolism and are a critical determinant of the activation of multiple cell death processes. Although several pathways for regulating and re-establishing mitochondrial homeostasis have been identified within the past twenty years, large gaps remain in our understanding of how cells keep mitochondria healthy.
To address this limitation, have developed a network of genes that underlie mitochondrial health. We began by compiling a list of frequently mutated genes using publicly available data from multiple human cancer cell lines. RNAi was used to disrupt orthologous genes in the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans in a series of assays to evaluate these genes’ ability to support mitochondrial health, as evidenced by precocious activation of mitochondrial autophagy and sensitivity to acute mitochondrial damage. Iterative screening of ~ 1000 genes yielded a network of 139 genes showing significant connectivity.
Functional validation of a panel of genes from the network indicated that disruption of each gene triggered at least one phenotype consistent with mitochondrial dysfunction, including increased fragmentation of the mitochondrial network, abnormal steady-state levels of ATP, NADH, or ROS, and altered oxygen consumption. Importantly, RNAi-mediated knockdown of these genes often exacerbated α-synuclein aggregation in a C. elegans model of Parkinson’s disease, indicating significant changes to cellular health. Additionally, human orthologs of the final mitochondrial health gene network showed enrichment for roles in a number of human disorders identified in the OMIM database. This gene network provides a foundation for identifying new mechanisms that support mitochondrial and cellular homeostasis.