Int J Mol Sci. 2023 Apr 29;24(9):8076. doi: 10.3390/ijms24098076.
Diabetic retinopathy continues to progress even when hyperglycemia is terminated, suggesting a ‘metabolic memory’ phenomenon. Mitochondrial dysfunction is closely associated with the development of diabetic retinopathy, and mitochondria remain dysfunctional. Quality control of mitochondria requires a fine balance between mitochondrial fission-fusion, removal of the damaged mitochondria (mitophagy) and formation of new mitochondria (biogenesis). In diabetes, while mitochondrial fusion protein (Mfn2) is decreased, fission protein (Drp1) is increased, resulting in fragmented mitochondria. Re-institution of normal glycemia fails to reverse mitochondrial fragmentation, and dysfunctional mitochondria continue to accumulate. Our aim was to investigate the direct effect of regulation of the mitochondrial fusion process during normal glycemia that follows a high glucose insult on mitochondrial quality control in the ‘metabolic memory’ phenomenon. Human retinal endothelial cells, incubated in 20 mM glucose for four days, followed by 5 mM glucose for four additional days, with or without the Mfn2 activator leflunomide, were analyzed for mitochondrial fission (live cell imaging), mitophagy (flow cytometry and immunofluorescence microscopy), and mitochondrial mass (mitochondrial copy numbers and MitoTracker labeling). Mitochondrial health was determined by quantifying mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS), respiration rate (Seahorse XF96) and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) damage. Addition of leflunomide during normal glucose exposure that followed high glucose prevented mitochondrial fission, facilitated mitophagy and increased mitochondrial mass. Glucose-induced decrease in mitochondrial respiration and increase in ROS and mtDNA damage were also prevented. Thus, direct regulation of mitochondrial dynamics can help maintain mitochondrial quality control and interfere with the metabolic memory phenomenon, preventing further progression of diabetic retinopathy.