Organisms produce high levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) to kill pathogens or act as signaling molecules to induce immune responses; however, excessive ROS can result in cell death. To maintain ROS balance and cell survival, mitophagy selectively eliminates damaged mitochondria via mitophagy receptors in vertebrates. In marine invertebrates, however, mitophagy and its functions remain largely unknown. In the current study, Vibrio splendidus infection damaged mitochondrial morphology in coelomocytes and reduced mitochondrial membrane potential (ΔΨm) and mitophagosome formation. The colocalization of mitochondria and lysosomes further confirmed that lipopolysaccharide (LPS) treatment increased mitophagy flux. To explore the regulatory mechanism of mitophagy, we cloned Bcl2/adenovirus E1B 19 kDa protein-interacting protein 3 (BNIP3), a common mitophagy receptor, from sea cucumber Apostichopus japonicus (AjBNIP3) and confirmed that AjBNIP3 was significantly induced and accumulated in mitochondria after V. splendidus infection and LPS exposure. At the mitochondrial membrane, AjBNIP3 interacts with microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3 (LC3) on phagophore membranes to mediate mitophagy. After AjBNIP3 interference, mitophagy flux decreased significantly. Furthermore, AjBNIP3-mediated mitophagy was activated by ROS following the addition of exogenous hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), ROS scavengers, and ROS inhibitors. Finally, inhibition of BNIP3-mediated mitophagy by AjBNIP3 small interfering RNA (siRNA) or high concentrations of lactate increased apoptosis and decreased coelomocyte survival. These findings highlight the essential role of AjBNIP3 in damaged mitochondrial degradation during mitophagy. This mitophagy activity is required for coelomocyte survival in A. japonicus against V. splendidus infection.

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