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PubMed | Hartwell Center for Bioinformatics & Biotechnology, University of Wisconsin - Madison, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and St Jude Childrens Research Hospital
Type: Journal Article | Journal: Blood | Year: 2015

Somatic mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations contribute to the pathogenesis of age-related disorders, including myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). The accumulation of mitochondria harboring mtDNA mutations in patients with these disorders suggests a failure of normal mitochondrial quality-control systems. The mtDNA-mutator mice acquire somatic mtDNA mutations via a targeted defect in the proofreading function of the mtDNA polymerase, PolgA, and develop macrocytic anemia similar to that of patients with MDS. We observed an unexpected defect in clearance of dysfunctional mitochondria at specific stages during erythroid maturation in hematopoietic cells from aged mtDNA-mutator mice. Mechanistically, aberrant activation of mechanistic target of rapamycin signaling and phosphorylation of uncoordinated 51-like kinase (ULK) 1 in mtDNA-mutator mice resulted in proteasome-mediated degradation of ULK1 and inhibition of autophagy in erythroid cells. To directly evaluate the consequence of inhibiting autophagy on mitochondrial function in erythroid cells harboring mtDNA mutations in vivo, we deleted Atg7 from erythroid progenitors of wild-type and mtDNA-mutator mice. Genetic disruption of autophagy did not cause anemia in wild-type mice but accelerated the decline in mitochondrial respiration and development of macrocytic anemia in mtDNA-mutator mice. These findings highlight a pathological feedback loop that explains how dysfunctional mitochondria can escape autophagy-mediated degradation and propagate in cells predisposed to somatic mtDNA mutations, leading to disease.

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