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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Changes to mitochondrial ultrastructure in optic nerve vulnerable to secondary degeneration in vivo are limited by irradiation at 670 nm

Nadia Cummins12, Carole A Bartlett12, Michael Archer12, Elora Bartlett12, Jan M Hemmi23, Alan R Harvey14, Sarah A Dunlop12 and Melinda Fitzgerald12*

Author affiliations

1 Experimental and Regenerative Neurosciences, The University of Western Australia, Crawley 6009, WA, Australia

2 School of Animal Biology, The University of Western Australia, Crawley 6009, WA, Australia

3 UWA Oceans Institute, The University of Western Australia, Crawley 6009, WA, Australia

4 School of Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology, The University of Western Australia, Crawley 6009, WA, Australia

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2013, 14:98  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-14-98

Published: 8 September 2013

Abstract

Background

Traumatic injury to the central nervous system results in damage to tissue beyond the primary injury, termed secondary degeneration. Key events thought to be associated with secondary degeneration involve aspects of mitochondrial function which may be modulated by red/near-infrared irradiation therapy (R/NIR-IT), but precisely how mitochondria are affected in vivo has not been investigated. Secondary degeneration was modelled by transecting the dorsal aspect of the optic nerve in adult rats and mitochondrial ultrastructure in intact ventral optic nerve vulnerable to secondary degeneration investigated with transmission electron microscopy.

Results

Despite reported increases in fission following central nervous system injury, we saw no change in mitochondrial densities in optic nerve vulnerable to secondary degeneration in vivo. However, in axons, frequency distributions of mitochondrial profile areas showed higher cumulative probabilities of smaller mitochondrial profiles at day 1 after injury. Glial mitochondrial profiles did not exhibit changes in area, but a more elliptical mitochondrial shape was observed at both day 1 and 7 following injury. Importantly, mitochondrial autophagic profiles were observed at days 1 and 7 in optic nerve vulnerable to secondary degeneration in vivo. Citrate synthase activity was used as an additional measure of mitochondrial mass in ventral optic nerve and was decreased at day 7, whereas mitochondrial aconitase activity increased at day 1 and day 28 after injury in optic nerve vulnerable to secondary degeneration. R/NIR-IT has been used to treat the injured central nervous system, with reported improvements in oxidative metabolism suggesting mitochondrial involvement, but ultrastructural information is lacking. Here we show that R/NIR-IT of injured animals resulted in distributions of mitochondrial areas and shape not significantly different from control and significantly reduced mitochondrial autophagic profiles. R/NIR-IT also resulted in decreased citrate synthase activity (day 7) and increased aconitase activity (day 1) in optic nerve vulnerable to secondary degeneration.

Conclusions

These findings suggest that mitochondrial structure and activity of enzymes of the citric acid cycle are dynamically altered during secondary degeneration in vivo and R/NIR-IT may protect mitochondrial structure.