Mitophagy regulates integrity of mitochondria at synapses and is critical for synaptic maintenance

Sinsuk Han, Yu Young Jeong, Preethi Sheshadri, Xiao Su, Qian Cai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Synaptic mitochondria are particularly vulnerable to physiological insults, and defects in synaptic mitochondria are linked to early pathophysiology of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Mitophagy, a cargo-specific autophagy for elimination of dysfunctional mitochondria, constitutes a key quality control mechanism. However, how mitophagy ensures synaptic mitochondrial integrity remains largely unknown. Here, we reveal Rheb and Snapin as key players regulating mitochondrial homeostasis at synapses. Rheb initiates mitophagy to target damaged mitochondria for autophagy, whereas dynein–Snapin-mediated retrograde transport promotes clearance of mitophagosomes from synaptic terminals. We demonstrate that synaptic accumulation of mitophagosomes is a feature in AD-related mutant hAPP mouse brains, which is attributed to increased mitophagy initiation coupled with impaired removal of mitophagosomes from AD synapses due to defective retrograde transport. Furthermore, while deficiency in dynein–Snapin-mediated retrograde transport recapitulates synaptic mitophagy stress and induces synaptic degeneration, elevated Snapin expression attenuates mitochondrial defects and ameliorates synapse loss in AD mouse brains. Taken together, our study provides new insights into mitophagy regulation of synaptic mitochondrial integrity, establishing a foundation for mitigating AD-associated mitochondria deficits and synaptic damage through mitophagy enhancement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere49801
JournalEMBO Reports
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 3 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


  • Alzheimer's
  • mitophagosome
  • retrograde transport
  • synaptic mitochondrial deficits
  • synaptic mitophagy


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