NIX initiates mitochondrial fragmentation via DRP1 to drive epidermal differentiation

Simpson CL, Tokito MK, Uppala R, Sarkar MK, Gudjonsson JE, Holzbaur EL

Cell Reports. Feb 2; 34(5): 108689. DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2021.108689

PMID: 33535046

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The epidermis regenerates continually to maintain a protective barrier at the body’s surface composed of differentiating keratinocytes. Maturation of this stratified tissue requires that keratinocytes undergo wholesale organelle degradation upon reaching the outermost tissue layers to form compacted, anucleate cells. Through live imaging of organotypic cultures of human epidermis, we find that regulated breakdown of mitochondria is critical for epidermal development. Keratinocytes in the upper layers initiate mitochondrial fragmentation, depolarization, and acidification upon upregulating the mitochondrion-tethered autophagy receptor NIX. Depleting NIX compromises epidermal maturation and impairs mitochondrial elimination, whereas ectopic NIX expression accelerates keratinocyte differentiation and induces premature mitochondrial fragmentation via the guanosine triphosphatase (GTPase) DRP1. We further demonstrate that inhibiting DRP1 blocks NIX-mediated mitochondrial breakdown and disrupts epidermal development. Our findings establish mitochondrial degradation as a key step in terminal keratinocyte differentiation and define a pathway operating via the mitophagy receptor NIX in concert with DRP1 to drive epidermal morphogenesis.

Cell Reports. Feb 2; 34(5): 108689. DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2021.108689