Research Papers:

Mitochondrial dysfunction activates lysosomal-dependent mitophagy selectively in cancer cells

Thomas G. Biel and V. Ashutosh Rao _

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Oncotarget. 2018; 9:995-1011. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.23171

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Thomas G. Biel1 and V. Ashutosh Rao1

1Laboratory of Applied Biochemistry, Division of Biotechnology Review and Research III, Office of Biotechnology Products, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Silver Spring, MD 20993, USA

Correspondence to:

V. Ashutosh Rao, email: [email protected]

Keywords: autophagy; mitophagy; mitochondria; mitoquinone; cancer

Received: September 30, 2017     Accepted: November 26, 2017     Published: December 11, 2017


Molecules designed to target and accumulate in the mitochondria are an emerging therapeutic approach for cancer and other indications. Mitochondria-targeted redox agents (MTAs) induce mitochondrial damage and autophagy in cancer cells. However, the mechanisms for these molecules to induce mitophagy, the clearance of damaged mitochondria, are largely unknown. Using breast derived cell lines and a series of targeted molecules, mitochondrial dysfunction and autophagy was established to be selective for MDA-MB-231 cancer cells as compared to the non-cancerous MCF-12A cells. Kinetic analyses revealed that mitochondrial dysfunction precedes the activation of autophagy in these cancer cells. To determine the onset of mitophagy, stably expressing mitochondrial mKeima, a mitochondrial pH sensor, cell lines were generated and revealed that these drugs activate lysosomal dependent mitochondrial degradation in MDA-MB-231 cells. Mitophagy was confirmed by identifying the accumulation of a PINK1, mitochondria located in autophagosomes, and the formation of an autophagosome-mitochondria protein (MFN2-LC3-II) complex. These results are the first to demonstrate that mitochondrial redox agents selectively induce mitophagy in a breast cancer cell line and their potential application both as tools for investigating mitochondrial biomechanics and as therapeutic strategies that target mitochondrial metabolism.

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