Mitophagy deficiency increases NLRP3 to induce brown fat dysfunction in mice

Autophagy. 2021 May;17(5):1205-1221. doi: 10.1080/15548627.2020.1753002. Epub 2020 May 13.


Although macroautophagy/autophagy deficiency causes degenerative diseases, the deletion of essential autophagy genes in adipocytes paradoxically reduces body weight. Brown adipose tissue (BAT) plays an important role in body weight regulation and metabolic control. However, the key cellular mechanisms that maintain BAT function remain poorly understood. in this study, we showed that global or brown adipocyte-specific deletion of pink1, a Parkinson disease-related gene involved in selective mitochondrial autophagy (mitophagy), induced BAT dysfunction, and obesity-prone type in mice. Defective mitochondrial function is among the upstream signals that activate the NLRP3 inflammasome. NLRP3 was induced in brown adipocyte precursors (BAPs) from pink1 knockout (KO) mice. Unexpectedly, NLRP3 induction did not induce canonical inflammasome activity. Instead, NLRP3 induction led to the differentiation of pink1 KO BAPs into white-like adipocytes by increasing the expression of white adipocyte-specific genes and repressing the expression of brown adipocyte-specific genes. nlrp3 deletion in pink1 knockout mice reversed BAT dysfunction. Conversely, adipose tissue-specific atg7 KO mice showed significantly lower expression of Nlrp3 in their BAT. Overall, our data suggest that the role of mitophagy is different from general autophagy in regulating adipose tissue and whole-body energy metabolism. Our results uncovered a new mitochondria-NLRP3 pathway that induces BAT dysfunction. The ability of the nlrp3 knockouts to rescue BAT dysfunction suggests the transcriptional function of NLRP3 as an unexpected, but a quite specific therapeutic target for obesity-related metabolic diseases.Abbreviations: ACTB: actin, beta; BAPs: brown adipocyte precursors; BAT: brown adipose tissue; BMDMs: bone marrow-derived macrophages; CASP1: caspase 1; CEBPA: CCAAT/enhancer binding protein (C/EBP), alpha; ChIP: chromatin immunoprecipitation; EE: energy expenditure; HFD: high-fat diet; IL1B: interleukin 1 beta; ITT: insulin tolerance test; KO: knockout; LPS: lipopolysaccharide; NLRP3: NLR family, pyrin domain containing 3; PINK1: PTEN induced putative kinase 1; PRKN: parkin RBR E3 ubiquitin protein ligase; RD: regular diet; ROS: reactive oxygen species; RT: room temperature; UCP1: uncoupling protein 1 (mitochondrial, proton carrier); WT: wild-type.

Keywords: Brown adipocyte; inflammasome; pink1; transcriptional activation; white adipocyte.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Autophagy / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Inflammasomes / metabolism*
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitophagy / genetics
  • Mitophagy / physiology*
  • NLR Family, Pyrin Domain-Containing 3 Protein / genetics
  • NLR Family, Pyrin Domain-Containing 3 Protein / metabolism*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Inflammasomes
  • NLR Family, Pyrin Domain-Containing 3 Protein
  • Nlrp3 protein, mouse
  • Reactive Oxygen Species