An Approach to Reduce Mitochondrial Function in the Heart Promotes Regeneration

In an interesting reversal of the usual goals in aged tissue, researchers here demonstrate an approach that reduces mitochondrial function in heart muscle to provoke replication of cardiomyocyte cells and consequent regeneration. Since this is achieved via downregulation of a single gene, it is a possible basis for future therapies aimed at improving function in the aged heart, or, the more usual focus in the research community, provoking greater regeneration following the injury and scarring of a heart attack.

Newborn mammalian cardiomyocytes quickly transition from a fetal to an adult phenotype that utilizes mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation but loses mitotic capacity. We tested whether forced reversal of adult cardiomyocytes back to a fetal glycolytic phenotype would restore proliferative capacity. We deleted Uqcrfs1 (mitochondrial Rieske Iron-Sulfur protein, RISP) in hearts of adult mice. As RISP protein decreased, heart mitochondrial function declined, and glucose utilization increased. Simultaneously, they underwent hyperplastic remodeling during which cardiomyocyte number doubled without cellular hypertrophy. Cellular energy supply was preserved, AMPK activation was absent, and mTOR activation was evident.

In ischemic hearts with RISP deletion, new cardiomyocytes migrated into the infarcted region, suggesting the potential for therapeutic cardiac regeneration. RNA-seq revealed upregulation of genes associated with cardiac development and proliferation. Metabolomic analysis revealed a decrease in alpha-ketoglutarate (required for TET-mediated demethylation) and an increase in S-adenosylmethionine (required for methyltransferase activity). Analysis revealed an increase in methylated CpGs near gene transcriptional start sites. Genes that were both differentially expressed and differentially methylated were linked to upregulated cardiac developmental pathways.

We conclude that decreased mitochondrial function and increased glucose utilization can restore mitotic capacity in adult cardiomyocytes resulting in the generation of new heart cells, potentially through the modification of substrates that regulate epigenetic modification of genes required for proliferation.