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Live-cell imaging of compartment-specific redox changes in menkes disease fibroblasts


Copper is an essential micronutrient and its misbalance in the body is associated with severe neurodegenerative disorders. While the importance of copper in the body is evident, mechanisms by which copper misbalance induces pathologic changes and disease symptoms are poorly understood. In this study, using fibroblasts from Menkes disease patient, as a cellular model of copper accumulation, we examined whether excess copper triggers specific and distinct changes in the redox environment of different cellular compartments.

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Skin fibroblasts from Menkes disease patient (YS cells, ATP7A-/-) and his heterozygous mother (ATP7A+/-) were used as an experimental system. Glutathione mediated redox environment and levels of H2O2 were investigated in nuclei, cytosol, and mitochondria of live cells by tagging the respective ratiometric sensors (GRX-roGFP and HyPer) with a compartment-specific localization signal.


Under basal conditions, the YS and XS cells show similar glutathione mediated redox environment in the nucleus and cytosol. However, the mitochondria are oxidizing in YS cells. YS cells were observed to accumulate higher level of peroxide in the cytosol and mitochondria. We also found that copper accumulation in cytosol and nuclei of YS cells sensitize cells to glutathione depletion suggesting importance of glutathione in protection of cells against copper overload


Our experiments revealed differential response of cellular compartments to excess copper in cells. Nuclei, in spite of being a site of copper accumulation, do not show marked redox changes, suggesting presence of robust protective mechanisms operating in this compartment. H2O2 accumulation in cytosol in YS cells does not change glutathione balance, whereas mitochondria appear most affected, since both H2O2 levels and glutathione balance are altered. We propose that mitochondria could be a primary site of copper toxicity in Menkes fibroblasts. Molecular mechanisms underlying differential redox responses are presently being investigated.

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Correspondence to Ashima Bhattacharjee.

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This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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Bhattacharjee, A., Ralle, M. & Lutsenko, S. Live-cell imaging of compartment-specific redox changes in menkes disease fibroblasts. Mol Cytogenet 7 (Suppl 1), P54 (2014).

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