U.S. Department of Defense


Date of this Version



Current Topics in Developmental Biology, Volume 121


U.S. Government Work


Mitochondrial diseases are a prevalent, heterogeneous class of diseases caused by defects in oxidative phosphorylation, whose severity depends upon particular genetic mutations. These diseases can be difficult to diagnose, and current therapeutics have limited efficacy, primarily treating only symptoms. Because mitochondria play a pivotal role in numerous cellular functions, especially ATP production, their diminished activity has dramatic physiological consequences. While this in and of itself makes treating mitochondrial disease complex, these organelles contain their own DNA, mtDNA, whose products are required for ATP production, in addition to the hundreds of nucleus-encoded proteins. Drosophila offers a tractable whole-animal model to understand the mechanisms underlying loss of mitochondrial function, the subsequent cellular and tissue damage that results, and how these organelles are inherited. Human and Drosophila mtDNAs encode the same set of products, and the homologous nucleusencoded genes required for mitochondrial function are conserved. In addition, Drosophila contain sufficiently complex organ systems to effectively recapitulate many basic symptoms of mitochondrial diseases, yet are relatively easy and fast to genetically manipulate. There are several Drosophila models for specific mitochondrial diseases, which have been recently reviewed (Foriel, Willems, Smeitink, Schenck, & Beyrath, 2015). In this review, we highlight the conservation between human and Drosophila mtDNA, the present and future techniques for creating mtDNA mutations for further study, and how Drosophila has contributed to our current understanding of mitochondrial inheritance.