The mitophagy receptor BNIP3 is critical for the regulation of metabolic homeostasis and mitochondrial function in the nucleus pulposus cells of the intervertebral disc

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Center for Molecular Medicine, MaineHealth Institute for Research

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The contribution of mitochondria to the metabolic function of hypoxic NP cells has been overlooked. We have shown that NP cells contain networked mitochondria and that mitochondrial translocation of BNIP3 mediates hypoxia-induced mitophagy. However, whether BNIP3 also plays a role in governing mitochondrial function and metabolism in hypoxic NP cells is not known. BNIP3 knockdown altered mitochondrial morphology, and number, and increased mitophagy. Interestingly, BNIP3 deficiency in NP cells reduced glycolytic capacity reflected by lower production of lactate/H and lower ATP production rate. Widely targeted metabolic profiling and flux analysis using 1-2-C-glucose showed that the BNIP3 loss resulted in redirection of glycolytic flux into pentose phosphate and hexosamine biosynthesis as well as pyruvate resulting in increased TCA flux. An overall reduction in one-carbon metabolism was noted suggesting reduced biosynthesis. UC-glutamine flux analysis showed preservation of glutamine utilization to maintain TCA intermediates. The transcriptomic analysis of the BNIP3-deficient cells showed dysregulation of cellular functions including membrane and cytoskeletal integrity, ECM-growth factor signaling, and protein quality control with an overall increase in themes related to angiogenesis and innate immune response. Importantly, we observed strong thematic similarities with the transcriptome of a subset of human degenerative samples. Last, we noted increased autophagic flux, decreased disc height index and aberrant COL10A1/collagen X expression, signs of early disc degeneration in young adult knockout mice. These results suggested that in addition to mitophagy regulation, BNIP3 plays a role in maintaining mitochondrial function and metabolism, and dysregulation of mitochondrial homeostasis could promote disc degeneration. ECAR extracellular acidification rate; HIF hypoxia inducible factor; MFA metabolic flux analysis; NP nucleus pulposus; OCR oxygen consumption rate; Sh short-hairpin .

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