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Coordinated Upregulation of Mitochondrial Biogenesis and Autophagy in Breast Cancer Cells

Cheng, Z;Schmelz, E;Zou, P;Zheng, LD;

Overactive mitochondrial fission was shown to promote cell transformation and tumor growth. It remains elusive how mitochondrial quality is regulated in such conditions. Here, we show that upregulation of mitochondrial fission protein, dynamin related protein-1 (Drp1), was accompanied with increased mitochondrial biogenesis markers (PGC1 alpha, NRF1, and Tfam) in breast cancer cells. However, mitochondrial number was reduced, which was associated with lower mitochondrial oxidative capacity in breast cancer cells. This contrast might be owing to enhanced mitochondrial turnover through autophagy, because an increased population of autophagic vacuoles engulfing mitochondria was observed in the cancer cells. Consistently, BNIP3 (a mitochondrial autophagy marker) and autophagic flux were significantly upregulated, indicative of augmented mitochondrial autophagy (mitophagy). The upregulation of Drp1 and BNIP3 was also observed in vivo (human breast carcinomas). Importantly, inhibition of Drp1 significantly suppressed mitochondrial autophagy, metabolic reprogramming, and cancer cell viability. Together, this study reveals coordinated increase of mitochondrial biogenesis and mitophagy in which Drp1 plays a central role regulating breast cancer cell metabolism and survival. Given the emerging evidence of PGC1 alpha contributing to tumor growth, it will be of critical importance to target both mitochondrial biogenesis and mitophagy for effective cancer therapeutics.