Minute powerhouses within our cells, mitochondria supply us with energy for chemical reactions. Unsurprisingly, any problems with our mitochondria have devastating effects around the body, including progressive blindness. Mitochondrial failure leads to oxidative stress, an imbalance between the amount of harmful reactive oxygen species produced by our cells, and their ability to cope with them. This damages the cells in our eyes, but mitochondrial defects can also impact vision in another way: they allow the toxic build-up of a protein named rhodopsin in the photoreceptors, the cells that respond to light. Pictured, in green, are the photoreceptors of a fruit fly; cells with healthy mitochondria are highlighted in blue, while the accumulation of rhodopsin in other cells is shown in yellow. A better understanding of the multiple ways in which mitochondrial disorders can trigger blindness will help design new treatments, effectively addressing the specific cause of each condition.
The 21st to the 27th of September is National Eye Health Week in the UK.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.