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Kye-Im Jeon, Ankita Kumar, Kaitlin T. Wozniak, Keith Nehrke, Krystel R. Huxlin; Defining the Role of Mitochondrial Fission in Corneal Myofibroblast Differentiation. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2022;63(4):2. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/iovs.63.4.2.
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Fibrosis caused by corneal wounding can lead to scar formation, impairing vision. Although preventing fibroblast-to-myofibroblast differentiation has therapeutic potential, effective mechanisms for doing so remain elusive. Recent work shows that mitochondria contribute to differentiation in several tissues. Here, we tested the hypothesis that mitochondrial dynamics, and specifically fission, are key for transforming growth factor (TGF)-β1–induced corneal myofibroblast differentiation.
Mitochondrial fission was inhibited pharmacologically in cultured primary cat corneal fibroblasts. We measured its impact on molecular markers of myofibroblast differentiation and assessed changes in mitochondrial morphology through fluorescence imaging. The phosphorylation status of established regulatory proteins, both of myofibroblast differentiation and mitochondrial fission, was assessed by Western analysis.
Pharmacological inhibition of mitochondrial fission suppressed TGF-β1-induced increases in alpha-smooth muscle actin, collagen 1, and fibronectin expression, and prevented phosphorylation of c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), but not small mothers against decapentaplegic 3, p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (p38), extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1 (ERK1), or protein kinase B (AKT). TGF-β1 increased phosphorylation of dynamin-related protein 1 (DRP1), a mitochondrial fission regulator, and caused fragmentation of the mitochondrial network. Although inhibition of JNK, ERK1, or AKT prevented phosphorylation of DRP1, none sufficed to independently suppress TGF-β1–induced fragmentation.
Mitochondrial dynamics play a key role in early corneal fibrogenesis, acting together with profibrotic signaling. This is consistent with mitochondria's role as signaling hubs that coordinate metabolic decision-making. This suggests a feed-forward cascade through which mitochondria, at least in part through fission, reinforce noncanonical TGF-β1 signaling to attain corneal myofibroblast differentiation.
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