Postnatal failure of oligodendrocyte maturation has been proposed as a cellular mechanism of diffuse white matter injury (WMI) in premature infants. However, the molecular mechanisms for oligodendrocyte maturational failure remain unclear. In neonatal mice and cultured differentiating oligodendrocytes, sublethal intermittent hypoxic (IH) stress activated cyclophilin D-dependent mitochondrial proton leak and uncoupled mitochondrial respiration, leading to transient bioenergetic stress. This was associated with development of diffuse WMI: poor oligodendrocyte maturation, diffuse axonal hypomyelination, and permanent sensorimotor deficit. In normoxic mice and oligodendrocytes, exposure to a mitochondrial uncoupler recapitulated the phenotype of WMI, supporting the detrimental role of mitochondrial uncoupling in the pathogenesis of WMI. Compared with WT mice, cyclophilin D-knockout littermates did not develop bioenergetic stress in response to IH challenge and fully preserved oligodendrocyte maturation, axonal myelination, and neurofunction. Our study identified the cyclophilin D-dependent mitochondrial proton leak and uncoupling as a potentially novel subcellular mechanism for the maturational failure of oligodendrocytes and offers a potential therapeutic target for prevention of diffuse WMI in premature infants experiencing chronic IH stress.
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