Microglial response promotes neurodegeneration in the Ndufs4 KO mouse model of Leigh syndrome

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Leigh syndrome is a mitochondrial disease characterized by neurodegeneration, neuroinflammation, and early death. Mice lacking NDUFS4, a mitochondrial complex I subunit (Ndufs4 KO mice), have been established as a good animal model for studying human pathology associated with Leigh syndrome. As the disease progresses, there is an increase in neurodegeneration and neuroinflammation, thereby leading to deteriorating neurological symptoms, including motor deficits, breathing alterations, and eventually, death of the animal. However, despite the magnitude of neuroinflammation associated with brain lesions, the role of neuroinflammatory pathways and their main cellular components have not been addressed directly as relevant players in the disease pathology. Here, we investigate the role of microglial cells, the main immune cells of the CNS, in Leigh-like syndrome pathology, by pharmacologically depleting them using the colony-stimulating factor 1 receptor antagonist PLX3397. Microglial depletion extended lifespan and delayed motor symptoms in Ndufs4 KO mice, likely by preventing neuronal loss. Next, we investigated the role of the major cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) in the disease progression. IL-6 deficiency partially rescued breathing abnormalities and modulated gliosis but did not extend the lifespan or rescue motor decline in Ndufs4 KO mice. The present results show that microglial accumulation is pathogenic, in a process independent of IL-6, and hints toward a contributing role of neuroinflammation in the disease of Ndufs4 KO mice and potentially in patients with Leigh syndrome.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberdoi: 10.1002/glia.24234
Pages (from-to)2032-2044
Number of pages13
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2022


  • IL-6
  • Leigh syndrome
  • Ndufs4 KO
  • microglia
  • neuroinflammation


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