Mitochondrial degeneration is considered one of the major causes of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Improved mitochondrial functions are expected to be a promising therapeutic strategy for PD. In this study, we introduced a light-driven proton transporter, Delta-rhodopsin (dR), to Drosophila mitochondria, where the mitochondrial proton-motive force (Δp) and mitochondrial membrane potential are maintained in a light-dependent manner. The loss of the PD-associated mitochondrial gene CHCHD2 resulted in reduced ATP production, enhanced mitochondrial peroxide production and lower Ca2+-buffering activity in dopaminergic (DA) terminals in flies. These cellular defects were improved by the light-dependent activation of mitochondrion-targeted dR (mito-dR). Moreover, mito-dR reversed the pathology caused by the CHCHD2 deficiency to suppress α-synuclein aggregation, DA neuronal loss, and elevated lipid peroxidation in brain tissue, improving motor behaviors. This study suggests the enhancement of Δp by mito-dR as a therapeutic mechanism that ameliorates neurodegeneration by protecting mitochondrial functions.
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