Reversible Keap1 inhibitors are preferential pharmacological tools to modulate cellular mitophagy

Georgakopoulos, N D and Frison, M and Alvarez, M S and Bertrand, H and Wells, G and Campanella, M (2017) Reversible Keap1 inhibitors are preferential pharmacological tools to modulate cellular mitophagy. Scientific Reports (Nature), 7. p. 10303.

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Abstract

Mitophagy orchestrates the autophagic degradation of dysfunctional mitochondria preventing their pathological accumulation and contributing to cellular homeostasis. We previously identified a novel chemical tool (hereafter referred to as PMI), which drives mitochondria into autophagy without collapsing their membrane potential (ΔΨm). PMI is an inhibitor of the protein-protein interaction (PPI) between the transcription factor Nrf2 and its negative regulator, Keap1 and is able to up-regulate the expression of autophagy-associated proteins, including p62/SQSTM1. Here we show that PMI promotes mitochondrial respiration, leading to a superoxide-dependent activation of mitophagy. Structurally distinct Keap1-Nrf2 PPI inhibitors promote mitochondrial turnover, while covalent Keap1 modifiers, including sulforaphane (SFN) and dimethyl fumarate (DMF), are unable to induce a similar response. Additionally, we demonstrate that SFN reverses the effects of PMI in co-treated cells by reducing the accumulation of p62 in mitochondria and subsequently limiting their autophagic degradation. This study highlights the unique features of Keap1-Nrf2 PPI inhibitors as inducers of mitophagy and their potential as pharmacological agents for the treatment of pathological conditions characterized by impaired mitochondrial quality control.