Background: Succinate dehydrogenase (Complex II) plays a dual role in respiration by catalyzing the oxidation of succinate to fumarate in the mitochondrial Krebs cycle and transferring electrons from succinate to ubiquinone in the mitochondrial electron transport chain (ETC). Mutations in Complex II are associated with a number of pathologies. SDHD, one of the four subunits of Complex II, serves by anchoring the complex to the inner-membrane and transferring electrons from the complex to ubiquinone. Thus, modeling SDHD dysfunction could be a valuable tool for understanding its importance in metabolism and developing novel therapeutics, however no suitable models exist.
Results: Via CRISPR/Cas9, we mutated SDHD in HEK293 cells and investigated the in vitro role of SDHD in metabolism. Compared to the parent HEK293, the knockout mutant HEK293ΔSDHD produced significantly less number of cells in culture. The mutant cells predictably had suppressed Complex II-mediated mitochondrial respiration, but also Complex I-mediated respiration. SDHD mutation also adversely affected glycolytic capacity and ATP synthesis. Mutant cells were more apoptotic and susceptible to necrosis. Treatment with the mitochondrial therapeutic idebenone partially improved oxygen consumption and growth of mutant cells.
Conclusions: Overall, our results suggest that SDHD is vital for growth and metabolism of mammalian cells, and that respiratory and growth defects can be partially restored with treatment of a ubiquinone analog. This is the first report to use CRISPR/Cas9 approach to construct a knockout SDHD cell line and evaluate the efficacy of an established mitochondrial therapeutic candidate to improve bioenergetic capacity.