Severe heat exposure causes mitochondrial fragmentation and dysfunction, which contribute to the pathogenesis of heat-related illness. L-citrulline is a naturally occurring amino acid and has been suggested to influence heat shock responses. This study aimed to test whether L-citrulline supplementation would preserve mitochondrial integrity and attenuate heat-induced skeletal muscle injury, and elucidate the underlying mechanisms. At 37°C, L-citrulline (2 mM) increased mitochondrial elongation in mouse C2C12 myoblasts, a process associated with a reduction in mitochondrial fission protein Drp1 levels. Mechanistic studies revealed that L-citrulline increased cellular nitric oxide (NO) levels, but not S-nitrosylation of Drp1. L-citrulline caused a decrease in phosphorylation of Drp1 at Ser 616 and an increase in phosphorylation of Drp1 at Ser 637, which resulted in a reduced mitochondrial localization of Drp1. L-NAME, a non-selective NO synthase inhibitor, abolished the increase in L-citrulline-induced NO levels and inhibited Drp1 phosphorylation changes and mitochondrial elongation, which indicates involvement of a NO-dependent pathway. Under 43°C heat stress conditions, L-citrulline prevented translocation of Drp1 to mitochondria, mitochondrial fragmentation and decreased membrane potential. Finally, L-citrulline pretreatment inhibited heat-induced reactive oxygen species (ROS) overproduction, caspase 3/7 activation, apoptotic cell death, and improved cell viability. NO inhibitor L-NAME abolished all the above protective effects of L-citrulline under heat stress. Our results suggest that L-citrulline prevents heat-induced mitochondrial dysfunction and cell injury through NO-mediated Drp1 inhibition in C2C12 myoblasts. L-citrulline may be an effective treatment for heat-related illnesses and other mitochondrial diseases.
Keywords: dietary supplement; heat stress; mitochondrial fission; reactive oxygen species; skeletal muscle.