Mitochondria get nasty when they get hurt

This is the full text of a very dense little article with a lot of gold embedded in it:

Mitochondrial reactive oxygen species drive proinflammatory cytokine production

Mitochondria are an appropriate fascination for any science writer who covers neurology, immunology, inflammation, or intracellular mechanisms — so here’s the BioWizardry primer on mitochondria.

Good primer from this article, in sci-speak:

“Mitochondria generate ATP through aerobic respiration, whereby glucose, pyruvate, and NADH are oxidized, thus generating ROS [Reactive Oxygen Species, or free radicals] as a byproduct. In normal circumstances, the deleterious effects caused by the highly reactive nature of ROS are balanced by the presence of antioxidants, including glutathione, carotenoids, and antioxidant enzymes such as catalase and glutathione peroxidase.”

Here’s a bit more insight into these fabulous little factories, gleaned from this article (which otherwise focuses on the mechanisms of a rare condition called TRAPS.)

The reason for the antioxidants we take so much of to support our overloaded nervous systems is, they act specifically against reactive oxygen species, ROS. ROS are chemically reactive molecules which contain oxygen, and use the oxygen to wreak a certain amount of biological havoc. As the BioWizardry mitochondria primer mentions, mitochondria are the biggest consumers and the biggest producers of antioxidants, and the nerve and muscle cells have the biggest population of mitochondria. Therefore, when your nervous system is under siege, as in chronic pain or anxiety or lupus or MCS or what-have-you, your body may need far more antioxidants than you can get in your food to support all those mitochondria, so they can keep making energy for your cells to use in their work.

“High levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) are observed in chronic human diseases such as neurodegeneration, Crohn’s disease, and cancer. In addition to the presence of oxidative stress, these diseases are also characterized by deregulated inflammatory responses, including but not limited to proinflammatory cytokine production. New work exploring the mechanisms linking ROS and inflammation find that ROS derived from mitochondria act as signaltransducing molecules that provoke the up-regulation of inflammatory cytokine subsets via distinct molecular pathways.”

OK, so, the mitochondria (the biggest producers and the biggest users of antioxidants) generate a specific set of ROS which trigger inflammatory cytokines.

That means, pissed-off mitochondrial cells trigger pain.

Mitochondria get pissed off by being damaged and not being able to clean themselves up:

“Mitophagy is a specialized form of autophagy that refers to the specific catabolism of mitochondria. Pharmacological inhibition of autophagy by treatment of macrophages with 3-methyladenine resulted in the accumulation of damaged mitochondria and an increase in the net amount of mtROS…”

(Autophagy is the word for when the damaged/unhealthy cell consumes itself so the damage is cleaned up and their contents get recycled for healthy cells. Cells are all about the greater good. When they’re too damaged to do their jobs, they recycle themselves.)

AND this happens whether autophagy is prevented upstream or midstream:

“Thus, autophagy regulates baseline mtROS production from individual mitochondria by a yet to be identified mechanism.”

Mind you, only so many mitochondria can autophage at a time. When damage exceeds the cell’s ability to keep up with the housework, you have a lot of damaged mitochondria.
dyed  microscopic image of busted mitochondria showing the inner reticulated membrane
So, take care of those mitochondria.

More on antioxidants will be coming soon. Naturally, it’s not as simple as it looks.

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Picking a target (volunteers welcome)

I have several topics competing for attention:

- The lowdown on neurotransmitters: what they are, what they do, where and how they’re made.
I can’t find my old version, but I’d rather rewrite it anyway and lard it heavily with current references and links.

- After that, there’s more to say about how neurotransmitters can be affected — for better or worse — by what you do, what you eat, and how you use your noggin.
This is aimed at that helpless feeling we tend to get when our minds go awry. There’s a lot you can do to mend your mind from the inside out, either with med help or without. I’d like to put the main strategies together here, because so much advice seems conflicting. Mostly, it isn’t, but it would be good to see why.

- Putting the “might” back in mitochondria: how to support your mitochondria in sickness and protect them in health.
This goes into the mechanics and physiology of the reparative stuff I mentioned in the prior article on mitochondria.

These are the big 3. Any preferences?

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Putting the "con" in mitochondria, the "funk" in dysfunction

Mitochondria (from the Greek, meaning “string grain” — yeah, it’s lame, but it sounds good in Greek) are independent little one-celled organisms that live inside your cells and make energy for them. If you ever studied the ATP cycle (also called the Krebbs cycle or the citric acid cycle, depending on where you went to school and how deeply they went into it), then you should know that this is where the ATP cycle takes place.

Without mitochondria, you have no way of converting food into energy.

When you were being conceived, half your cells’ genes came from your mother and half from your father. All of the other stuff that goes inside a cell came from your mother. This includes the mitochondria. (This is why mitochondrial DNA is used to track maternal inheritance: it always comes down the female line.) Your mother’s cell hosts conception, just as (normally) your mother’s body hosts gestation.

Mitochondria have a fairly smooth outer layer and a deeply-rumpled inner layer. Most of the action happens inside the rumpled layer. This is where the ribosomes, most of the fluids and loose protein, and the ATP-making particles hang out.

Cells, including mitochondria, need various proteins to do their work with. Large proteins get carefully handed from the outside world, through the outer layer of the mitochondrion (singular of “mitochondria” — sorry, it’s still Greek), then into the inner layer.

If the smooth outer layer is damaged, this makes this transfer process screw up, and the inner layer gets disrupted, ripping up the cell. Granules and nucleic acids all over the place. Bang goes that ATP production.

Those are some busted mitochondria.

This kind of damage happens in response to certain kinds of toxins (including certain medications for AIDS and all psychoactives — including antidepressants and pain medications, which seems especially mean!), occasionally from genetic disturbance, and occasionally as a consequence of illness — or nerve injury and its complications.

Mitochondrial dysfunction has been repeatedly and profoundly linked to neurogenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s; cell-metabolism problems like heart disease, insulin resistance and type II diabetes; and several diseases often mistaken for CRPS.

Not surprisingly, symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction are the worst in tissues that use the most energy and have the largest number of mitochondria per cell: nerves, muscles, brain.

Recently, it has been strongly associated with CRPS. And the cherry on top: it plays a vital role in neuroplasticity, or the way your nerves and brain change — for better or worse.

Hell-o, “pain-brain.” We thought we knew ya!

Knowing why it’s so damnably exhausting to walk a mile, when it used to be fun — fun! — to run 3, is a bit of a relief. First question that leaps to my mind: How do I fix ‘em? How do I give them what they need to get better and protect themselves?  The answer seems simple: antioxidants are what’s needed to prevent and repair that damage (good explanation of that here) to the walls of the mitochondrial cell.  Mitochondria are both the biggest makers of reactive oxygen species and the biggest scavengers of them, so of course it makes sense that that’s exactly the kind of help they need when they can’t keep up.

Downing antioxidants by the bucketful is one way to get them in. Intriguing for three reasons:

  • Taking moderate amounts of the antioxidant Vitamin C after surgery hugely reduces your chances of getting CRPS. (Upper limb and lower limb surgeries were studied.)
  • There’s some indication that Vitamin K may help combat the progress of CRPS.
  • Taking antioxidants is pretty easy: delicious food, accessible pills, not bad.

Kind of depressing for one simple reason: it’s iffy whether, once you’ve got the disease process going, the antioxidants can get where they’re needed and save your poor beleaguered mitochondria. … Having said that, I notice that the writers of that article seem to be trying to sell something, and that makes me very suspicious of their conclusions.

Next, I’ll offer suggestions for patients, suggestions for clinicians, and then wind this up with a foray into the question of whether mitochondrial issues have a genetic component, like being X-linked — the way a cat’s fur color is! 

For people with CRPS — So what is a poor, confused CRPSer to do?

Two things that you hardly need reminding of:

  1. Trust your sense of your own body.
  2. Do what works for you.

Most antioxidants are not going to hurt you, without letting you know first (that is, make you nauseous or feel funny.) Take vitamin C in doses no larger than 500mg, since larger doses tend to trigger your gut to throw the C away. Go ahead and try stress-vitamins, co-enzyme Q-10, N-acetylcysteine, hair-skin-&-nails vitamins (these are really fat-soluble antioxidants) … try things, take what helps, and put aside the rest if they don’t do anything. Keep in mind that things change: what doesn’t work now might work later, and vice-versa.

Also, eat all the leafy greens you can get: seaweed snacks, Mom’s collard greens, kale krunchies, spinach salad, you name it. It’s amazing nerve food.

For antioxidant powerhouses, look for dark-red and dark-blue fruits: pomegranates, blueberries, red wine, chocolate (though some CRPS people have to avoid that for its nerve effects), mangosteen (my favorite fruit), cranberries, and so on.

Stay smart. Stay loose. Keep going.

For medical people — clinical takeaways:

Most treatment standards, particularly for CRPS, are based on science that’s over a decade old. They shouldn’t be changed blithely but they can certainly be improved. There is plenty of room for that.

The following points are intended as additions to the standards you follow for CRPS, as they are good guidelines for mitochondrial and neurologic support in a system compromised by CRPS.

  •  After any limb surgery, give Vitamin C 500 mg, QD or BID, for a couple weeks beforehand and 30-50 days after — or to metabolic tolerance, if that’s too much. Use a food-associated form for best uptake. This one intervention will reduce the risk of developing CRPS by 80%, according to the best current data.
  •  We assume your patients are taking an adequate multivitamin and are eating plenty of greens, dark fruits, and wholesome proteins. So make sure they are.  Direct them to food bank, food stamps or other food assistance as needed. Give recipes. (No kidding.)  2 benefits: better antioxidant uptake if taken with antioxidant-rich food, and increasing the patient’s own sense of agency/participation improves pain and affect.  (If you don’t believe in multivitamins, then get out of the supermarket/pharmacy and get some real ones.)
  •  Stress the antioxidant vitamins.  In acute CRPS, give water-soluble antioxidant vitamins in 1-3x the doses you’d give a healthy person.  Give fat-soluble antioxidants (A, D, E) up to 2x normal, testing levels as indicated.  Consider vitamin K inj.
  •  In cold/chronic CRPS, give water-soluble antioxidant vitamins in 3-5x the doses you’d give a healthy person (start at 2x and work up).  Give fat-soluble antioxidants (A, D, E) up to 2-4x normal, testing levels as indicated; consider weekly mega-dose D (as used in AIDS.)  Give vitamin K inj.  Check serum or urine levels as indicated, especially as we develop absorption disorders.
  •  Give “uber-antioxidants” like ubiquinone (co-Q 10), N-acetylcysteine, or glutathione. There are indications that these can provide substantial benefit — though again, not normally curative of chronic CRPS. They are impressive, especially for mitochondrial-dysfunction issues.

These ranges are empirical; if you can find the funding to do the science to develop more reliable ranges for this population, so much the better.

Adequate tissue oxygenation and perfusion can return substantial function and significantly reduce pharmacologic burden. Patients can demonstrate this, even where the data have not been published and peer reviewed. Therefore, use antioxidants rigorously and intelligently.

Image credit: http://www.vrp.com/antioxidants/-r-lipoic-acid-unique-mitochondrial-antioxidant-fights-premature-aging.  (Article’s not bad.)

Why all that anti-oxidation when the medical literature is not definitive?  2 reasons, which you ought to know for yourselves:

  1. Between the cortisol and systemic oxidative stresses, it can’t hurt and it will help something. You’ll see a distinct improvement in affect, activity, motivation and well-being when the dose is optimized, even if it can’t be expected to be curative.  Making your patient’s life more bearable is an essential part of your job.
  2. Let’s say this together, everyone: statistics mean nothing in the case of the individual.  Accepted, standardized medicine is what you start with, but, when your case is taking you out to the margins, you go to the margins, because that’s where your success is most likely to await.  

Keep in mind that doctors are not the only scientists interested in the human body.  Be prepared to look into other disciplines for leads when your own offers no good options.

Try Nursing, PT, Nutrition, Therapeutic Massage — you’ll realize that nobody knows more about soft tissue’s functional physiology in vivo than therapeutic massage science, and if nothing else, the exercise in intellectual flexibility might do you good.

The accepted style is very different, but the info they have is tremendous.

Forward-looking thoughts:

  • Consider infusing vitamin K into CRPS-damaged tissues. I would love to see studies on that.
  • Figure out how to deliver antioxidants in a targeted way. (Now! Please!) This would be a good way to save a lot of lives and end tons of misery.

… And for all curious people …

Let’s go back to mitochondria in reproduction. Kind of in an X-rated way, figuratively speaking.

We know that women have two X chromosomes. The Y chromosome is a stubby little object with hardly any data to use, unless you’re into color-blindness or hemophilia; this means women have quantities of extra data, which can have even more devastating effects (as in, Down syndrome.) So how to handle the extra genes?

Pick one. Simple as that.

Shortly after conception, when the cells are just dividing like mad and haven’t decided what to be yet, every single cell turns off one of its two X chromosomes; each of that cell’s daughter cells inactivates the same X chromosome. As the cells continue to multiply, then fill out, fold, bend around, and specialize, to become a whole, separate being, it means that X-linked traits appear in a mottled pattern throughout the body, as the two sets of daughter cells continue reproducing and passing on their particular X-activations.  Isn’t that curious?

As an especially decorative instance, cats’ hair color is an X-linked trait:

Cool, huh? Love her accent, too.

But this fact brings me to a serious question about mitochondrial disease. If mitochondria are sex-linked, is there a relationship between the X chromosome and mitochondrial expression? It seems improbable that there wouldn’t be, because mitochondria reside inside the cell, and the cell’s action is determined by the genes within it. The mitochondria had to have developed a special relationship with the X’s in the 23rd chromosomal pair, after all those millenia.

It’s generally accepted that mitochondrial diseases are due to toxification or to complex, multigenetic issues. Ok, fine. But what about mitochondrial vulnerabilities that don’t become pathologic until they are damaged in some other way? To what degree is toxification an issue related to X-activation? In other words, is mitochnodrial vulnerability related to vulnerabilities in the active X chromosome?

Is there a patchy characteristic to the early stages of mitochondrial destruction? — You know, the early stages of rare disorders, the time when it’s impossible to get a diagnosis because the doctors are all so busy chasing their own tails around your irrational symptoms and their own ignorance.

Is that initial “mottled” activity one reason why these diseases are so damn weird?

Link list:

Wikipedia’s entry on mitochondria is pretty good:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitochondria

On mitochondria and AIDS meds:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20818734
On mitochondria and pyschoactives:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18626887

Alzheimer’s Foundation:
http://www.alzfdn.org

Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s foundation:
http://www.michaeljfox.org/

United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, listing diseases which are often mistaken for CRPS:
http://www.umdf.org/

Mitochondria and neuroplasticity:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20957078

A good rundown (so to speak) of antioxidants’ function:
http://www.ionizedwateronline.com/Antioxidants.html

Vitamin C around surgery.
Upper limb:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17606778
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20224742
Lower limb:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19840748

Vitamin K and CRPS progression:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20378261

Getting antioxidants where they’re most needed. Ignore the shystering towards the end:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21422516

ALA and regeneration of Vitamin E:
http://www.vrp.com/antioxidants/-r-lipoic-acid-unique-mitochondrial-antioxidant-fights-premature-aging

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