Mitochondria interface genetic/epigenetic responses to psychological stress

This 2015 Pennsylvania rodent study found:

Mitochondria can regulate complex whole-body physiological responses, impacting stress perception at the cellular and organismal levels.

Mitochondrial dysfunctions altered the

  1. hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, sympathetic adrenal–medullary activation and catecholamine levels,
  2. the inflammatory cytokine IL-6,
  3. circulating metabolites, and
  4. hippocampal gene expression

responses to stress.

Stress-induced [1] neuroendocrine, [2] inflammatory, [3] metabolic, and [4] transcriptional responses coalesced into unique signatures that distinguish groups based on their mitochondrial genotype.”

The study’s design was comprehensive for the subject of mitochondrial function and stress response categories. It interrelated elements that had a common cause of stress, such as:

  • Hyperglycemia
  • Increased lipids
  • Corticosterone sensitivity
  • Epigenetic changes within the brain

The study’s Figure 6E was a hierarchical “heat map” of the correlations among the 77 stress-induced changes that were measured. Figure 6G presented these variables per the five mitochondrial genotypes (a control wild-type and four genetic dysfunctions). Many of the lines forming the hierarchy needed careful reading of the study’s interpretations.


I was put off that the buzzword “allostatic load” was forced into the study’s Significance statement and otherwise informative Discussion section. The term refers to a long-term hypothetical situation, whereas the study’s experiments lasted 2 hours at most before the subjects were killed.

www.pnas.org/content/112/48/E6614.full “Mitochondrial functions modulate neuroendocrine, metabolic, inflammatory, and transcriptional responses to acute psychological stress”

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