Heterogeneity of the calcium-induced permeability transition in isolated non-synaptic brain mitochondria


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Tibor Kristián, Department of Anesthesiology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Anesthesiology Research Laboratories, MSTF 5–34, 685 W. Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA. E-mail: Tkristian@anesthlab.umm.edu


Calcium overload of neural cell mitochondria plays a key role in excitotoxic and ischemic brain injury. This study tested the hypothesis that brain mitochondria consist of subpopulations with differential sensitivity to calcium-induced inner membrane permeability transition, and that this sensitivity is greatly reduced by physiological levels of adenine nucleotides. Isolated non-synaptosomal rat brain mitochondria were incubated in a potassium-based medium in the absence or presence of ATP or ADP. Measurements were made of medium and intramitochondrial free calcium, light scattering, mitochondrial ultrastructure, and the elemental composition of electron-opaque deposits within mitochondria treated with calcium. In the absence of adenine nucleotides, calcium induced a partial decrease in light scattering, accompanied by three distinct ultrastructural morphologies, including large-amplitude swelling, matrix vacuolization and a normal appearance. In the presence of ATP or ADP the mitochondrial calcium uptake capacity was greatly enhanced and calcium induced an increase rather than a decrease in mitochondrial light scattering. Approximately 10% of the mitochondria appeared damaged and the rest contained electron-dense precipitates that contained calcium, as determined by electron-energy loss spectroscopy. These results indicate that brain mitochondria are heterogeneous in their response to calcium. In the absence of adenine nucleotides, approximately 20% of the mitochondrial population exhibit morphological alterations consistent with activation of the permeability transition, but less than 10% exhibit evidence of osmotic swelling and membrane disruption in the presence of ATP or ADP.