A new beta cell-specific mitophagy reporter mouse shows that metabolic stress leads to accumulation of dysfunctional mitochondria despite increased mitophagy

Diabetologia. 2023 Jan;66(1):147-162. doi: 10.1007/s00125-022-05800-8. Epub 2022 Oct 1.


Aims/hypothesis: Mitophagy, the selective autophagy of mitochondria, is essential for maintenance of mitochondrial function. Recent studies suggested that defective mitophagy in beta cells caused diabetes. However, because of technical difficulties, the development of a convenient and reliable method to evaluate mitophagy in beta cells in vivo is needed. The aim of this study was to establish beta cell-specific mitophagy reporter mice and elucidate the role of mitophagy in beta cell function under metabolically stressed conditions induced by a high-fat diet (HFD).

Methods: Mitophagy was assessed using newly generated conditional mitochondrial matrix targeting mitophagy reporter (CMMR) mice, in which mitophagy can be visualised specifically in beta cells in vivo using a fluorescent probe sensitive to lysosomal pH and degradation. Metabolic stress was induced in mice by exposure to the HFD for 20 weeks. The accumulation of dysfunctional mitochondria was examined by staining for functional/total mitochondria and reactive oxygen species (ROS) using specific fluorescent dyes and antibodies. To investigate the molecular mechanism underlying mitophagy in beta cells, overexpression and knockdown experiments were performed. HFD-fed mice were examined to determine whether chronic insulin treatment for 6 weeks could ameliorate mitophagy, mitochondrial function and impaired insulin secretion.

Results: Exposure to the HFD increased the number of enlarged (HFD-G) islets with markedly elevated mitophagy. Mechanistically, HFD feeding induced severe hypoxia in HFD-G islets, which upregulated mitophagy through the hypoxia-inducible factor 1-ɑ (Hif-1ɑ)/BCL2 interacting protein 3 (BNIP3) axis in beta cells. However, HFD-G islets unexpectedly showed the accumulation of dysfunctional mitochondria due to excessive ROS production, suggesting an insufficient capacity of mitophagy for the degradation of dysfunctional mitochondria. Chronic administration of insulin ameliorated hypoxia and reduced ROS production and dysfunctional mitochondria, leading to decreased mitophagy and restored insulin secretion.

Conclusions/interpretation: We demonstrated that CMMR mice enabled the evaluation of mitophagy in beta cells. Our results suggested that metabolic stress induced by the HFD caused the aberrant accumulation of dysfunctional mitochondria, which overwhelmed the mitophagic capacity and was associated with defective maintenance of mitochondrial function and impaired insulin secretion.

Keywords: Beta cells; Hypoxia; Insulin secretion; Mitochondria; Mitophagy; ROS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Hypoxia
  • Insulin
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria*
  • Stress, Physiological*


  • Insulin