Adipocyte differentiation is characterized by an increase in mitochondrial metabolism. However, it is not known whether the increase in mitochondrial metabolism is essential for differentiation or a byproduct of the differentiation process. Here, we report that primary human mesenchymal stem cells undergoing differentiation into adipocytes display an early increase in mitochondrial metabolism, biogenesis, and reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation. This early increase in mitochondrial metabolism and ROS generation was dependent on mTORC1 signaling. Mitochondrial-targeted antioxidants inhibited adipocyte differentiation, which was rescued by the addition of exogenous hydrogen peroxide. Genetic manipulation of mitochondrial complex III revealed that ROS generated from this complex is required to initiate adipocyte differentiation. These results indicate that mitochondrial metabolism and ROS generation are not simply a consequence of differentiation but are a causal factor in promoting adipocyte differentiation.
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