Cell-based therapies represent a very promising strategy to repair and regenerate the injured heart to prevent progression to heart failure. To date, these therapies have had limited success due to a lack of survival and retention of the infused cells. Therefore, it is important to increase our understanding of the biology of these cells and utilize this information to enhance their survival and function in the injured heart. Mitochondria are critical for progenitor cell function and survival. Here, we demonstrate the importance of mitochondrial autophagy, or mitophagy, in the differentiation process in adult cardiac progenitor cells (CPCs). We found that mitophagy was rapidly induced upon initiation of differentiation in CPCs. We also found that mitophagy was mediated by mitophagy receptors, rather than the PINK1-PRKN/PARKIN pathway. Mitophagy mediated by BNIP3L/NIX and FUNDC1 was not involved in regulating progenitor cell fate determination, mitochondrial biogenesis, or reprogramming. Instead, mitophagy facilitated the CPCs to undergo proper mitochondrial network reorganization during differentiation. Abrogating BNIP3L- and FUNDC1-mediated mitophagy during differentiation led to sustained mitochondrial fission and formation of donut-shaped impaired mitochondria. It also resulted in increased susceptibility to cell death and failure to survive the infarcted heart. Finally, aging is associated with accumulation of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) damage in cells and we found that acquiring mtDNA mutations selectively disrupted the differentiation-activated mitophagy program in CPCs. These findings demonstrate the importance of BNIP3L- and FUNDC1-mediated mitophagy as a critical regulator of mitochondrial network formation during differentiation, as well as the consequences of accumulating mtDNA mutations. Abbreviations: Baf: bafilomycin A1; BCL2L13: BCL2 like 13; BNIP3: BCL2 interacting protein 3; BNIP3L: BCL2 interacting protein 3 like; CPCs: cardiac progenitor cells; DM: differentiation media; DNM1L: dynamin 1 like; EPCs: endothelial progenitor cells; FCCP: carbonyl cyanide-4-(trifluoromethoxy)phenylhydrazone; FUNDC1: FUN14 domain containing 1; HSCs: hematopoietic stem cells; MAP1LC3B/LC3: microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3 beta; MFN1/2: mitofusin 1/2; MSCs: mesenchymal stem cells; mtDNA: mitochondrial DNA; OXPHOS: oxidative phosphorylation; PPARGC1A: PPARG coactivator 1 alpha; PHB2: prohibitin 2; POLG: DNA polymerase gamma, catalytic subunit; SQSTM1: sequestosome 1; TEM: transmission electron microscopy; TMRM: tetramethylrhodamine methyl ester.
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