Mitochondrial dysfunctions contribute to neurodegeneration, the locations of which vary among neurodegenerative diseases. To begin to understand what mechanisms may underlie higher vulnerability of the spinal cord motor neurons in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, compared with brain mitochondria, we studied three major functions of rat brain mitochondria (BM) and spinal cord mitochondria (SCM) mitochondria: oxidative phosphorylation, Ca2+ sequestration, and production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), using a new metabolic paradigm (Panov et al., J. Biol. Chem. 284: 14448–14456, 2009). We present data that SCM share some unique metabolic properties of the BM. However, SCM also have several distinctions from the BM: 1) With the exception of succinate, SCM show significantly lower rates of respiration with all substrates studied; 2) immunoblotting analysis showed that this may be due to 30–40% lower contents of respiratory enzymes and porin; 3) compared with BM, SCM sequestered 40–50% less Ca2+, and the total tissue calcium content was 8 times higher in the spinal cord; 4) normalization for mitochondria from 1 g of tissue showed that BM can sequester several times more Ca2+ than was available in the brain tissue, whereas SCM had the capacity to sequester only 10–20% of the total tissue Ca2+; and 5) with succinate and succinate-containing substrate mixtures, SCM showed significantly higher state 4 respiration than BM and generated more ROS associated with the reverse electron transport. We conclude that SCM have an intrinsically higher risk of oxidative damage and overload with calcium than BM, and thus spinal cord may be more vulnerable under some pathologic conditions. (250
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