Mammalian red blood cells (RBCs), which primarily contain hemoglobin, exemplify an elaborate maturation process, with the terminal steps of RBC generation involving extensive cellular remodeling. This encompasses alterations of cellular content through distinct stages of erythroblast maturation that result in the expulsion of the nucleus (enucleation) followed by the loss of mitochondria and all other organelles and a transition to anaerobic glycolysis. Whether there is any link between erythroid removal of the nucleus and the function of any other organelle, including mitochondria, remains unknown. Here we demonstrate that mitochondria are key to nuclear clearance. Using live and confocal microscopy and highthroughput single-cell imaging, we show that before nuclear polarization, mitochondria progressively move toward one side of maturing erythroblasts and aggregate near the nucleus as it extrudes from the cell, a prerequisite for enucleation to proceed. Although we found active mitochondrial respiration is required for nuclear expulsion, levels of mitochondrial activity identify distinct functional subpopulations, because terminally maturing erythroblasts with low relative to high mitochondrial membrane potential are at a later stage of maturation, contain greatly condensed nuclei with reduced open chromatin-associated acetylation histone marks, and exhibit higher enucleation rates. Lastly, to our surprise, we found that late-stage erythroblasts sustain mitochondrial metabolism and subsequent enucleation, primarily through pyruvate but independent of in situ glycolysis. These findings demonstrate the critical but unanticipated functions of mitochondria during the erythroblast enucleation process. They are also relevant to the in vitro production of RBCs as well as to disorders of the erythroid lineage.
ASJC Scopus subject areas