As an organellar network, mitochondria dynamically regulate their organization via opposing fusion and fission pathways to maintain bioenergetic homeostasis and contribute to key cellular pathways. This dynamic balance is directly linked to bioenergetic function: loss of transmembrane potential across the inner membrane (Δψ m) disrupts mitochondrial fission/fusion balance, causing fragmentation of the network. However, the level of Δψ m required for mitochondrial dynamic balance, as well as the relative contributions of fission and fusion pathways, have remained unclear. To explore this, mitochondrial morphology and Δψ m were examined via confocal imaging and tetramethyl rhodamine ester (TMRE) flow cytometry, respectively, in cultured 143B osteosarcoma cells. When normalized to the TMRE value of untreated 143B cells as 100%, both genetic (mtDNA-depleted ρ0) and pharmacological [carbonyl cyanide m-chlorophenyl hydrazone (CCCP)-treated] cell models below 34% TMRE fluorescence were unable to maintain mitochondrial interconnection, correlating with loss of fusion-active long OPA1 isoforms (L-OPA1). Mechanistically, this threshold is maintained by mechanistic coordination of DRP1-mediated fission and OPA1-mediated fusion: cells lacking either DRP1 or the OMA1 metalloprotease were insensitive to loss of Δψ m, instead maintaining an obligately fused morphology. Collectively, these findings demonstrate a mitochondrial 'tipping point' threshold mediated by the interaction of Δψ m with both DRP1 and OMA1; moreover, DRP1 appears to be required for effective OPA1 maintenance and processing, consistent with growing evidence for direct interaction of fission and fusion pathways. These results suggest that Δψ m below threshold coordinately activates both DRP1-mediated fission and OMA1 cleavage of OPA1, collapsing mitochondrial dynamic balance, with major implications for a range of signaling pathways and cellular life/death events.
Keywords: Oxidative phosphorylation; Proteolytic cleavage; Protonophore; S-OPA1; mtDNA.