Mitochondria play a central role during neurogenesis by providing energy in the form of ATP for cytoskeletal remodelling, outgrowth of neuronal processes, growth cone activity and synaptic activity. However, the fundamental question of how differentiating neurons control mitochondrial biogenesis remains vastly unexplored. Since our previous studies have shown that the neurogenic bHLH (basic helix-loop-helix) transcription factor NeuroD6 is sufficient to induce differentiation of the neuronal progenitor-like PC12 cells and that it triggers expression of mitochondrial-related genes, we investigated whether NeuroD6 could modulate the mitochondrial biomass using our PC12-ND6 cellular paradigm. Using a combination of flow cytometry, confocal microscopy and mitochondrial fractionation, we demonstrate that NeuroD6 stimulates maximal mitochondrial mass at the lamellipodia stage, thus preceding axonal growth. NeuroD6 triggers remodelling of the actin and microtubule networks in conjunction with increased expression of the motor protein KIF5B, thus promoting mitochondrial movement in developing neurites with accumulation in growth cones. Maintenance of the NeuroD6-induced mitochondrial mass requires an intact cytoskeletal network, as its disruption severely reduces mitochondrial mass. The present study provides the first evidence that NeuroD6 plays an integrative role in co-ordinating increase in mitochondrial mass with cytoskeletal remodelling, suggestive of a role of this transcription factor as a co-regulator of neuronal differentiation and energy metabolism.
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