ROS-induced mitochondrial depolarization initiates PARK2/PARKIN-dependent mitochondrial degradation by autophagy

Autophagy. 2012 Oct;8(10):1462-76. doi: 10.4161/auto.21211. Epub 2012 Aug 14.


Reactive oxygen species (ROS) have been implicated as a signal for general autophagy. Both mitochondrial-produced and exogenous ROS induce autophagosome formation. However, it is unclear whether ROS are required for the selective autophagic degradation of mitochondria, a process called mitophagy. Recent work using carbonyl cyanide m-chlorophenylhydrazone (CCCP), a mitochondrial-uncoupling reagent, has been shown to induce mitophagy. However, CCCP treatment may not be biologically relevant since it causes the depolarization of the entire mitochondrial network. Since mitochondria are the main ROS production sites in mammalian cells, we propose that short bursts of ROS produced within mitochondria may be involved in the signaling for mitophagy. To test this hypothesis, we induced an acute burst of ROS within mitochondria using a mitochondrial-targeted photosensitizer, mitochondrial KillerRed (mtKR). Using mtKR, we increased ROS levels in the mitochondrial matrix, which resulted in the loss of membrane potential and the subsequent activation of PARK2-dependent mitophagy. Importantly, we showed that overexpression of the mitochondrial antioxidant protein, superoxide dismutase-2, can squelch mtKR-induced mitophagy, demonstrating that mitochondrial ROS are responsible for mitophagy activation. Using this assay, we examined the impact of mitochondrial morphology on mitophagy. It was shown recently that elongated mitochondria are more resistant to mitophagy through unknown mechanisms. Here, we show that elongated mitochondria are more resistant to ROS-induced damage and mitophagy compared with fragmented mitochondria, suggesting that mitochondrial morphology has an important role in regulating ROS and mitophagy. Together, our results suggest that ROS-induced mitochondrial damage may be an important upstream activator of mitophagy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Autophagy*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Mitophagy*
  • Photobleaching
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*
  • Superoxide Dismutase / metabolism
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases / metabolism*


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Superoxide Dismutase
  • superoxide dismutase 2
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases
  • parkin protein