Lon protease: a novel mitochondrial matrix protein in the interconnection between drug-induced mitochondrial dysfunction and endoplasmic reticulum stress

Br J Pharmacol. 2017 Dec;174(23):4409-4429. doi: 10.1111/bph.14045. Epub 2017 Nov 7.


Background and purpose: Mitochondria-associated membranes (MAMs) are specific endoplasmic reticulum (ER) domains that enable it to interact directly with mitochondria and mediate metabolic flow and Ca2+ transfer. A growing list of proteins have been identified as MAMs components, but how they are recruited and function during complex cell stress situations is still not understood, while the participation of mitochondrial matrix proteins is largely unrecognized.

Experimental approach: This work compares mitochondrial/ER contact during combined ER stress/mitochondrial dysfunction using a model of human hepatoma cells (Hep3B cell line) treated for 24 h with classic pharmacological inducers of ER stress (thapsigargin), mitochondrial dysfunction (carbonyl cyanide m-chlorophenyl hydrazone or rotenone) or both (the antiretroviral drug efavirenz used at clinically relevant concentrations).

Key results: Markers of mitochondrial dynamics (dynamin-related protein 1, optic atrophy 1 and mitofusin 2) were expressed differently with these stimuli, pointing to a specificity of combined ER/mitochondrial stress. Lon, a matrix protease involved in protein and mtDNA quality control, was up-regulated at mRNA and protein levels under all conditions. However, only efavirenz decreased the mitochondrial content of Lon while increasing its extramitochondrial presence and its localization to MAMs. This latter effect resulted in an enhanced mitochondria/ER interaction, as shown by co-immunoprecipitation experiments of MAMs protein partners and confocal microscopy imaging.

Conclusion and implications: A specific dual drug-induced mitochondria-ER effect enhances the MAMs content of Lon and its extramitochondrial expression. This is the first report of this phenomenon and suggests a novel MAMs-linked function of Lon protease.

MeSH terms

  • Alkynes
  • Benzoxazines / pharmacology
  • Carbonyl Cyanide m-Chlorophenyl Hydrazone / pharmacology
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cyclopropanes
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / drug effects
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Mitochondria / drug effects*
  • Mitochondria / pathology
  • Mitochondrial Membranes / drug effects
  • Mitochondrial Membranes / metabolism
  • Protease La / metabolism*
  • Rotenone / pharmacology
  • Thapsigargin / pharmacology


  • Alkynes
  • Benzoxazines
  • Cyclopropanes
  • Rotenone
  • Carbonyl Cyanide m-Chlorophenyl Hydrazone
  • Thapsigargin
  • Protease La
  • efavirenz