Inhibition of mitochondrial complex I activity is hypothesized to be one of the major mechanisms responsible for dopaminergic neuron death in Parkinson's disease. However, loss of complex I activity bysystemic deletion of the Ndufs4 gene, one of the subunits comprising complex I, does not cause dopaminergic neuron death in culture. Here, we generated mice with conditional Ndufs4 knockout in dopaminergic neurons (Ndufs4 conditional knockout mice [cKO]) to examine the effect of complexIinhibition on dopaminergic neuron function and survival during aging and on 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) treatment invivo. Ndufs4 cKO mice did not show enhanced dopaminergic neuron loss in the substantia nigra pars compacta or dopamine-dependent motor deficits over the 24-month life span. These mice were just as susceptible to MPTP as control mice. However, compared with control mice, Ndufs4 cKO mice exhibited an age-dependent reduction of dopamine in the striatum and increased α-synuclein phosphorylation in dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra pars compacta. We also used an inducible Ndufs4 knockout mouse strain (Ndufs4inducible knockout) in which Ndufs4 is conditionally deleted in all cells in adult to examine the effect of adult onset, complex I inhibition on MPTP sensitivity of dopaminergic neurons. The Ndufs4 inducible knockout mice exhibited similar sensitivity to MPTP as control littermates. These data suggest that mitochondrial complex I inhibition in dopaminergic neurons does contribute to dopamine loss and the development of α-synuclein pathology. However, it is not sufficient to cause cell-autonomous dopaminergic neuron death during the normal life span of mice. Furthermore, mitochondrial complex I inhibition does not underlie MPTP toxicity invivo in either cell autonomous or nonautonomous manner. These results provide strong evidence that inhibition of mitochondrial complex I activity is not sufficient to cause dopaminergic neuron death during aging nor does it contribute to dopamine neuron toxicity in the MPTP model of Parkinson's disease. These findings suggest the existence of alternative mechanisms of dopaminergic neuron death independentof mitochondrial complex I inhibition.
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