The heart relies on mitochondria-derived energy production for continuous contraction and relaxation; therefore, the maintenance of a pool of healthy mitochondria is essential for sustaining normal cardiac performance. Mitophagy serves as a critical process for maintaining mitochondrial quality control and involves the PTEN-induced kinase 1/Parkin (Pink1/Parkin) pathway and autophagosomes labeled with the autophagy proteins autophagy-related 7 (ATG) and light chain 3 (LC3). In this issue of the JCI, Saito and colleagues identify an alternative pathway for mitophagy that utilizes the serine/threonine protein kinase Unc-51–like kinase 1 (Ulk1) and the small GTPase Rab9 to clear damaged mitochondria independently of conventional autophagy proteins. Together, the results of this study reveal that Ulk1 phosphorylation of Rab9 at serine 179 is critical for alternative mitophagy and cardioprotection under energy stress conditions.
Rimpy Dhingra, Inna Rabinovich-Nikitin, Lorrie A. Kirshenbaum