Yeast as a system for modeling mitochondrial disease mechanisms and discovering therapies
Disease Models & Mechanisms. 2015-06-01; 8(6): 509-526
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Mitochondrial diseases are severe and largely untreatable. Owing to the many essential processes carried out by mitochondria and the complex cellular systems that support these processes, these diseases are diverse, pleiotropic, and challenging to study. Much of our current understanding of mitochondrial function and dysfunction comes from studies in the baker’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Because of its good fermenting capacity, S. cerevisiae can survive mutations that inactivate oxidative phosphorylation, has the ability to tolerate the complete loss of mitochondrial DNA (a property referred to as ‘petite-positivity’), and is amenable to mitochondrial and nuclear genome manipulation. These attributes make it an excellent model system for studying and resolving the molecular basis of numerous mitochondrial diseases. Here, we review the invaluable insights this model organism has yielded about diseases caused by mitochondrial dysfunction, which ranges from primary defects in oxidative phosphorylation to metabolic disorders, as well as dysfunctions in maintaining the genome or in the dynamics of mitochondria. Owing to the high level of functional conservation between yeast and human mitochondrial genes, several yeast species have been instrumental in revealing the molecular mechanisms of pathogenic human mitochondrial gene mutations. Importantly, such insights have pointed to potential therapeutic targets, as have genetic and chemical screens using yeast.