Mitochondria are key organelles implicated in a variety of processes related to energy and free radical generation, the regulation of apoptosis, and various signaling pathways. Mitochondrial dysfunction increases cellular oxidative stress and depletes ATP in a variety of inherited mitochondrial diseases and also in many other metabolic and neurodegenerative diseases. Mitochondrial diseases are characterized by the dysfunction of the mitochondrial respiratory chain, caused by mutations in the genes encoded by either nuclear DNA or mitochondrial DNA. We have hypothesized that chemicals that increase the cellular ATP levels may ameliorate the mitochondrial dysfunction seen in mitochondrial diseases. To search for the potential drugs for mitochondrial diseases, we screened an in-house chemical library of indole-3-acetic-acid analogs by measuring the cellular ATP levels in Hep3B human hepatocellular carcinoma cells. We have thus identified mitochonic acid 5 (MA-5), 4-(2,4-difluorophenyl)-2-(1H-indol-3-yl)-4-oxobutanoic acid, as a potential drug for enhancing ATP production. MA-5 is a newly synthesized derivative of the plant hormone, indole-3-acetic acid. Importantly, MA-5 improved the survival of fibroblasts established from patients with mitochondrial diseases under the stress-induced condition, including Leigh syndrome, MELAS (myopathy encephalopathy lactic acidosis and stroke-like episodes), Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, and Kearns-Sayre syndrome. The improved survival was associated with the increased cellular ATP levels. Moreover, MA-5 increased the survival of mitochondrial disease fibroblasts even under the inhibition of the oxidative phosphorylation or the electron transport chain. These data suggest that MA-5 could be a therapeutic drug for mitochondrial diseases that exerts its effect in a manner different from anti-oxidant therapy.
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