Mitochondrial DNA mutations activate programmed cell survival in the mouse heart

Dekui Zhang, Justin L. Mott, Shin Wen Chang, Melissa Stevens, Peter Mikolajczak, H. Peter Zassenhaus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Increased frequencies of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations characterize the aging heart and are also found in idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy and end-stage heart failure. The pathogenic potential of such mutations is unclear. Transgenic mice showing accelerated accumulation of mtDNA mutations and dilated cardiomyopathy due to expression of an error-prone mtDNA polymerase specifically in the heart were characterized by Western blot analysis and immunohistochemistry for the levels of pro- and antiapoptotic proteins. By 8 wk of age, when frequencies of mtDNA mutations were ∼0.01% and all transgenic mice showed four-chamber cardiac dilation, a vigorous prosurvival response was evident. Upregulated were Bcl-2, Bcl-xl, Bfl1, heat shock protein 27, and X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis protein, all of which function to inhibit apoptosis. Although translocation of Bax to mitochondria was also seen, it was not integrated into the mitochondrial membrane. Treatment of transgenic mice with doxorubicin failed to induce apoptosis, in contrast to controls, showing that the prosurvival response protected cardiomyocytes from a death stimulus. Increased apoptosis and release of cytochrome c appeared to precede the establishment of the prosurvival state suggesting that it may reflect a response to activation of programmed cell death pathways. It has been proposed that a programmed cell survival response is activated in the failing and aging heart. We show that elevated frequencies of mtDNA mutations may serve as one trigger for the activation of such a response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H2476-H2483
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number5 57-5
StatePublished - May 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Aging
  • Apoptosis
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Doxorubicin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)

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