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Autophagy. 2006 Jan-Mar;2(1):39-46. Epub 2006 Jan 10.

Tracker dyes to probe mitochondrial autophagy (mitophagy) in rat hepatocytes.

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Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599-7090, USA.


Mitochondria become targets for autophagic degradation after nutrient deprivation, a process also termed mitophagy. In this study, we used LysoTracker Red (LTR) and MitoTracker Green to characterize the kinetics of autophagosomal proliferation and mitophagy in cultured rat hepatocytes. Autophagy induced by nutrient deprivation plus glucagon increased LTR uptake assessed with a fluorescence plate reader and the number of LTR-labeled acidic organelles assessed with confocal microscopy in individual hepatocytes both by 4- to 6-fold. Serial imaging of hepatocytes coloaded with MitoTracker Green (MTG) revealed an average mitochondrial digestion time of 7.5 min after autophagic induction. In the presence of protease inhibitors, digestion time more than doubled, and the total number of LTR-labeled organelles increased about 40%, but the proportion of the LTR-labeled acidic organelles containing MTG fluorescence remained constant at about 75%. Autophagy inhibitors, 3-methyladenine, wortmannin and LY204002, suppressed the increase of LTR uptake after nutrient deprivation by up to 85%, confirming that increased LTR uptake reflected autophagy induction. Cyclosporin A and NIM811, specific inhibitors of the mitochondrial permeability transition (MPT), also decreased LTR uptake, whereas tacrolimus, an immunosuppressive reagent that does not inhibit the MPT, was without effect. In addition, the c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) inhibitors, SCP25041 and SP600125, blocked LTR uptake by 47% and 61%, respectively, but ERK1, p38 and caspase inhibitors had no effect. The results show that mitochondria once selected for mitophagy are rapidly digested and support the concept that mitochondrial autophagy involves the MPT and signaling through PI3 kinase and possibly JNK.

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