Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells are highly dependent on oxidative phosphorylation (OxPhos) for survival, and they continually adapt to fluctuations in nutrient and oxygen availability in the bone marrow (BM) microenvironment. We investigated how the BM microenvironment affects the response to OxPhos inhibition in AML by using a novel complex I OxPhos inhibitor, IACS-010759. Cellular adhesion, growth, and apoptosis assays, along with measurements of expression of mitochondrial DNA and generation of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species indicated that direct interactions with BM stromal cells triggered compensatory activation of mitochondrial respiration and resistance to OxPhos inhibition in AML cells. Mechanistically, inhibition of OxPhos induced transfer of mitochondria derived from mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to AML cells via tunneling nanotubes under direct-contact coculture conditions. Inhibition of OxPhos also induced mitochondrial fission and increased functional mitochondria and mitophagy in AML cells. Mitochondrial fission is known to enhance cell migration, so we used electron microscopy to observe mitochondrial transport to the leading edge of protrusions of AML cells migrating toward MSCs. We further demonstrated that cytarabine, a commonly used antileukemia agent, increased mitochondrial transfer of MSCs to AML cells triggered by OxPhos inhibition. Our findings indicate an important role of exogenous mitochondrial trafficking from BM stromal cells to AML cells as well as endogenous mitochondrial fission and mitophagy in the compensatory adaptation of leukemia cells to energetic stress in the BM microenvironment.
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