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This research was originally published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Lee, Hakjoo; Smith, Sylvia B; Sheu, Shey-Shing; and Yoon, Yisang, "The short variant of optic atrophy 1 (OPA1) improves cell survival under oxidative stress." J Biol Chem. May 2020; 295 (19) 6543-6560. © the Author(s)."

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Optic atrophy 1 (OPA1) is a dynamin protein that mediates mitochondrial fusion at the inner membrane. OPA1 is also necessary for maintaining the cristae and thus essential for supporting cellular energetics. OPA1 exists as membrane-anchored long form (L-OPA1) and short form (S-OPA1) that lacks the transmembrane region and is generated by cleavage of L-OPA1. Mitochondrial dysfunction and cellular stresses activate the inner membrane-associated zinc metallopeptidase OMA1 that cleaves L-OPA1, causing S-OPA1 accumulation. The prevailing notion has been that L-OPA1 is the functional form, whereas S-OPA1 is an inactive cleavage product in mammals, and that stress-induced OPA1 cleavage causes mitochondrial fragmentation and sensitizes cells to death. However, S-OPA1 contains all functional domains of dynamin proteins, suggesting that it has a physiological role. Indeed, we recently demonstrated that S-OPA1 can maintain cristae and energetics through its GTPase activity, despite lacking fusion activity. Here, applying oxidant insult that induces OPA1 cleavage, we show that cells unable to generate S-OPA1 are more sensitive to this stress under obligatory respiratory conditions, leading to necrotic death. These findings indicate that L-OPA1 and S-OPA1 differ in maintaining mitochondrial function. Mechanistically, we found that cells that exclusively express L-OPA1 generate more superoxide and are more sensitive to Ca2+-induced mitochondrial permeability transition, suggesting that S-OPA1, and not L-OPA1, protects against cellular stress. Importantly, silencing of OMA1 expression increased oxidant-induced cell death, indicating that stress-induced OPA1 cleavage supports cell survival. Our findings suggest that S-OPA1 generation by OPA1 cleavage is a survival mechanism in stressed cells.

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