Thyroid hormone receptor and ERRα coordinately regulate mitochondrial fission, mitophagy, biogenesis, and function

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science Signaling  26 Jun 2018:
Vol. 11, Issue 536, eaam5855
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.aam5855

Two nuclear receptors for mitochondria

Mitochondrial processes such as fission, mitophagy, and biogenesis are regulated by thyroid hormone receptor (THR) and ERRα, both of which are nuclear receptors that alter gene expression when bound to ligand. Noting that many THR target genes lack response elements for this nuclear receptor, Singh et al. investigated the regulation of genes involved in mitochondrial pathways by THR. Using a human liver cell line and mice treated with TH in the absence or presence of an ERRα inhibitor, the authors found that THR mediated its effects on mitochondrial processes by increasing the expression of the gene encoding ERRα. These results suggest that agonist activation of ERRα could be used to improve mitochondrial quality in metabolic or neurodegenerative diseases or aging.


Thyroid hormone receptor β1 (THRB1) and estrogen-related receptor α (ESRRA; also known as ERRα) both play important roles in mitochondrial activity. To understand their potential interactions, we performed transcriptome and ChIP-seq analyses and found that many genes that were co-regulated by both THRB1 and ESRRA were involved in mitochondrial metabolic pathways. These included oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS), the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, and β-oxidation of fatty acids. TH increased ESRRA expression and activity in a THRB1-dependent manner through the induction of the transcriptional coactivator PPARGC1A (also known as PGC1α). Moreover, TH induced mitochondrial biogenesis, fission, and mitophagy in an ESRRA-dependent manner. TH also induced the expression of the autophagy-regulating kinase ULK1 through ESRRA, which then promoted DRP1-mediated mitochondrial fission. In addition, ULK1 activated the docking receptor protein FUNDC1 and its interaction with the autophagosomal protein MAP1LC3B-II to induce mitophagy. siRNA knockdown of ESRRA, ULK1, DRP1, or FUNDC1 inhibited TH-induced autophagic clearance of mitochondria through mitophagy and decreased OXPHOS. These findings show that many of the mitochondrial actions of TH are mediated through stimulation of ESRRA expression and activity, and co-regulation of mitochondrial turnover through the PPARGC1A-ESRRA-ULK1 pathway is mediated by their regulation of mitochondrial fission and mitophagy. Hormonal or pharmacologic induction of ESRRA expression or activity could improve mitochondrial quality in metabolic disorders.

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science Signaling