Hereditary spastic paraplegias (HSPs) are a group of neurological disorders characterized clinically by spasticity of lower limbs and pathologically by degeneration of the corticospinal tract. Troyer syndrome is an autosomal recessive HSP caused by a frameshift mutation in the spartin (SPG20) gene. Previously, we established that this mutation results in a lack of expression of the truncated mutant spartin protein. Spartin is involved in many cellular processes and associates with several intracellular organelles, including mitochondria. Spartin contains a conserved plant-related senescence domain at its C-terminus. However, neither the function of this domain nor the roles of spartin in mitochondrial physiology are currently known. In this study, we determined that the plant-related senescence domain of spartin interacts with cardiolipin but not with two other major mitochondrial phospholipids, phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine. We also found that knockdown of spartin by small interfering RNA in a human neuroblastoma cell line resulted in depolarization of the mitochondrial membrane. In addition, depletion of spartin resulted in a significant decrease in both mitochondrial calcium uptake and mitochondrial membrane potential in cells treated with thapsigargin. Our results suggest that impairment of mitochondrial calcium uptake might contribute to the neurodegeneration of long corticospinal axons and the pathophysiology of Troyer syndrome
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