Affiliation: Department of Experimental and Clinical Medicine, University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy.
Kennedy disease (spinal and bulbar muscular atrophy, or SBMA) is a motor neuron disease caused by a CAG expansion in the androgen-receptor (AR) gene. Increasing evidence shows that SBMA may have a primary myopathic component and that mitochondrial dysfunction may have some role in the pathogenesis of this disease. In this article, we review the role of mitochondrial dysfunction and of the mitochondrial genome (mtDNA) in SBMA, and we present the illustrative case of a patient who presented with increased CK levels and exercise intolerance. Molecular analysis led to definitive diagnosis of SBMA, whereas muscle biopsy showed a mixed myopathic and neurogenic process with “mitochondrial features” and multiple mtDNA deletions, supporting some role of mitochondria in the pathogenesis of the myopathic component of Kennedy disease. Furthermore, we briefly review the role of mitochondrial dysfunction in two other motor neuron diseases (namely spinal muscular atrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Most likely, in most cases mtDNA does not play a primary role and it is involved subsequently. MtDNA deletions may contribute to the neurodegenerative process, but the exact mechanisms are still unclear. It will be important to develop a better understanding of the role of mitochondrial dysfunction in motoneuron diseases, since it may lead to the development of more effective strategies for the treatment of this devastating disorder