Improved Mitochondrial Function May Positively Affect Spinal Cord Injuries

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by Marina Anastasiou |

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Researchers recently reviewed the importance of the mitochondria, the cell’s energy production factories, with special focus on spinal cord injury (SCI) and the development of comorbidities such as Type 2 diabetes and obesity. They found that improvement of mitochondrial function may decrease cell death and metabolic function in these patients.

In an editorial, “Skeletal muscle mitochondrial health and spinal cord injury” published in the World Journal of Orthopedics, co-authors Laura C O’Brien and Ashraf S Gorgey summarize the current literature — albeit limited — on how impaired mitochondria functions affect on patients with muscle and brain problems.

A host of experimental findings indicates that mitochondrial processes often are deregulated in certain diseases, particularly in those affecting brain and muscle tissues, where energy requirements are ample and therefore the mitochondrial abnormalities are greatly highlighted.

SCI patients can have atrophied skeletal muscles, which also undergo dramatic metabolic changes, paving the way for glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. That, in turn, leads to two well-documented SCI co-morbidities: Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

These functional differences of the muscles can be attributed, in great part, to changes in mitochondrial processes like their biogenesis, energy production and overall dynamics, according to data from several studies.

The authors identified and summarized these key changes in body composition, daily habits and in the cellular level:

• Increased adipose tissue deposition
• Decreased muscle mass
• Lack of exercise
• Changes in the way the muscles process nutrients
• Skeletal muscle atrophy

The editorial’s authors believe these results are important because they may lead to new therapies preventing secondary cardiovascular diseases and diabetes in SCI and traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients, as well as patients with other mitochondria-related diseases, such as those affected by neurodegenerative disorders.

“A better understanding of how mitochondrial function is impacted in patients with chronic SCI is critical for developing interventions to increase mitochondrial function and improve metabolic outcomes … Improvement in mitochondrial function by exercise or pharmacological interventions in chronic SCI may decrease co-morbidities,” the reviewers wrote. “This will result in better health for patients and a lower financial burden for their healthcare. A better understanding of mitochondrial biology may also translate to a number of other diseases in which mitochondrial are dysfunctional, particularly insulin resistance, Type2 diabetes, and obesity,” the reviewers concluded.