Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation





First Advisor

Dr. Patrick G. Sullivan


Mitochondrial dysfunction is a phenomenon observed in models of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Loss of mitochondrial bioenergetics can result in diminished cellular homeostasis leading to cellular dysfunction and possible cellular death. Consequently, the resultant tissue damage can manifest as functional deficits and/or disease states. Therapeutic strategies to target this mitochondrial dysfunction have been investigated for models TBI and have shown promising effects.

For this project, we tested the hypothesis that mitoNEET, a novel mitochondrial membrane protein, is a target for pioglitazone mediated neuroprotection. To test this, we used a severe Controlled Cortical Impact (CCI) injury model in mitoNEET null and wild-type mice. We then dosed these animals with pioglitazone or NL-1, which is a compound that has a similar structure to pioglitazone allowing us to hone in one the importance of mitoNEET binding. Wild-type animals treated with the mitoNEET ligands, both pioglitazone and NL-1, had improved mitochondrial function, tissue sparing and functional recovery, compared to mitoNEET null animals.

In addition to this specific hypothesis tested, our experiments provided insight casting doubt on the central dogma that mitochondrial dysfunction following TBI is the result of vast oxidative damage and consequential irreversible mitochondrial loss. The data from these studies show that when mitoNEET is targeted with pioglitazone at 12 hours’ post-injury, mitochondrial dysfunction can be reversed. Additionally, when bypassing proteins upstream of Complex I with an alternative biofuel, such as beta-hydroxybuterate (BHB), TBI related mitochondrial dysfunction is once again reversed. This leads to novel hypothesis for future work which posits mitoNEET as a redox sensitive switch; when mitoNEET senses changes in redox, as seen in TBI, it inhibits mitochondrial respiration. When targeted with an agonist/ligand or bypassed with a biofuel TBI mitochondrial dysfunction can be reversed.

These studies support the role of mitoNEET in the neuropathological sequelae of brain injury, supporting mitoNEET as a crucial target for pioglitazone mediated neuroprotection following TBI. Lastly, these studies propose a mechanism of TBI related mitochondrial dysfunction which can reversed with pharmacological agents.

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