Aconitase Causes Iron Toxicity in Drosophila pink1 Mutants

Giovanni Esposito, Melissa Vos, Sven Vilain, Jef Swerts, Jorge de Sousa Valadas, Stefanie van Meensel, Onno Schaap, Patrik Verstreken*

*Corresponding author for this work
46 Citations (Scopus)


The PTEN-induced kinase 1 (PINK1) is a mitochondrial kinase, and pink1 mutations cause early onset Parkinson's disease (PD) in humans. Loss of pink1 in Drosophila leads to defects in mitochondrial function, and genetic data suggest that another PD-related gene product, Parkin, acts with pink1 to regulate the clearance of dysfunctional mitochondria (mitophagy). Consequently, pink1 mutants show an accumulation of morphologically abnormal mitochondria, but it is unclear if other factors are involved in pink1 function in vivo and contribute to the mitochondrial morphological defects seen in specific cell types in pink1 mutants. To explore the molecular mechanisms of pink1 function, we performed a genetic modifier screen in Drosophila and identified aconitase (acon) as a dominant suppressor of pink1. Acon localizes to mitochondria and harbors a labile iron-sulfur [4Fe-4S] cluster that can scavenge superoxide to release hydrogen peroxide and iron that combine to produce hydroxyl radicals. Using Acon enzymatic mutants, and expression of mitoferritin that scavenges free iron, we show that [4Fe-4S] cluster inactivation, as a result of increased superoxide in pink1 mutants, results in oxidative stress and mitochondrial swelling. We show that [4Fe-4S] inactivation acts downstream of pink1 in a pathway that affects mitochondrial morphology, but acts independently of parkin. Thus our data indicate that superoxide-dependent [4Fe-4S] inactivation defines a potential pathogenic cascade that acts independent of mitophagy and links iron toxicity to mitochondrial failure in a PD-relevant model.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1003478
JournalPLoS Genetics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 04.2013


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