Mechanism of leflunomide-induced proliferation of mitochondria in mammalian cells

Mitochondrion. 2002 Dec;2(3):163-79. doi: 10.1016/s1567-7249(02)00045-4.


Leflunomide (LFM) is an inhibitor of mitochondrial enzyme dihydroorotate dehydrogenase (DHODH) that catalyzes the conversion of dihydroorotate to orotate coupled with the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) from mitochondria. We demonstrate here that LFM causes an unrestrained proliferation of mitochondria both in human osteosarcoma cell line 143B cells and rat liver derived RL-34 cells. Increases in the total mass of mitochondria per cell in LFM-treated cells were evidenced by the application of Green FM or 10-n-nonyl acridine orange to flow cytometry, an enhanced replication of mtDNA and electron microscopy. Externally added uridine improved the disturbance in cell cycle progression in LFM-treated cells, but failed to suppress such unrestrained mitochondrial proliferation. On the contrary, lapacol and 5-fluoroorotate, inhibitors of DHODH besides LFM, suppressed the biogenesis of mitochondria during the cell cycle progression. LFM, but not lapacol or 5-fluoroorotate, caused increases of the intracellular level of acetylated alpha-tubulin. These data suggest that the inhibition of DHODH may not be at least primarily related to the LFM-induced abnormal proliferation of mitochondria, and support our recent published observation that changes in the physicochemical properties of microtubules may be in someway concerned with the biogenesis of mitochondria.