Mitophagy, the selective recycling of mitochondria through autophagy, is a crucial metabolic process induced by cellular stress, and defects are linked to aging, sarcopenia and neurodegenerative diseases. To therapeutically target mitophagy, the fundamental in vivo dynamics and molecular mechanisms must be fully understood. Here, we generated mitophagy biosensor zebrafish lines expressing mitochondrially targeted, pH-sensitive fluorescent probes, mito-Keima and mito-EGFP–mCherry, and used quantitative intravital imaging to illuminate mitophagy during physiological stresses, namely, embryonic development, fasting and hypoxia. In fasted muscle, volumetric mitolysosome size analyses documented organelle stress response dynamics, and time-lapse imaging revealed that mitochondrial filaments undergo piecemeal fragmentation and recycling rather than the wholesale turnover observed in cultured cells. Hypoxia-inducible factor (Hif) pathway activation through physiological hypoxia or chemical or genetic modulation also provoked mitophagy. Intriguingly, mutation of a single mitophagy receptor (bnip3) prevented this effect, whereas disruption of other putative hypoxia-associated mitophagy genes [bnip3la (nix), fundc1, pink1 or prkn (Parkin)] had no effect. This in vivo imaging study establishes fundamental dynamics of fasting-induced mitophagy and identifies bnip3 as the master regulator of Hif-induced mitophagy in vertebrate muscle.

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