Fusion and fission: the orchestra of mitochondrial dynamics

The aim of this project is the identification and functional characterization of novel mitochondrial dynamics proteins.​

Mitochondrial processes particularly interesting in the context of learning are mitochondrial fusion, fission, transport and turnover, collectively called mitochondrial dynamics. Mitochondrial dynamics is crucial for maintaining a healthy mitochondrial pool and defects in this process have been associated with defects in neuronal development, plasticity and functioning. However, not all proteins involved in mitochondrial dynamics are known.

Mitochondria are dynamic cytoplasmic organelles, embedding crucial processes for cellular energy production, in the form of ATP, like the oxidative phosphorylation. Mitochondria are especially important for neurons as neurons have a high energy demand and utilize up to 4.7 billion ATP molecules per second. In addition, mitochondrial ATP production supports synapse assembly, generation of action potential and synaptic transmission, which is essential for the process of learning.  Besides the production of ATP, mitochondria also buffer intercellular calcium levels. Consequently, healthy experience-induced learning, implemented as neuronal network modifications, heavily relies on healthy mitochondria and mitochondrial ATP production. Not surprisingly, mitochondrial defects are mainly associated with neurological disorders.