A major cause of cell death during myocardial ischemia-reperfusion is mitochondrial dysfunction. We previously showed that the reperfusion of an ischemic myocardium was associated with an accumulation of cholesterol into mitochondria and a concomitant strong generation of auto-oxidized oxysterols. The inhibition of mitochondrial accumulation of cholesterol abolished the formation of oxysterols and prevented mitochondrial injury at reperfusion. The aim of this study was to investigate the impact of hypercholesterolemia on sterol and oxysterol accumulation in rat cardiac cytosols and mitochondria and to analyse the effect of the translocator protein ligand 4′-chlorodiazepam on this accumulation and mitochondrial function. Hypercholesterolemic ZDF fa/fa rats or normocholesterolemic lean rats were submitted to 30 min of coronary artery occlusion followed by 15 min reperfusion where cardiac cytosols and mitochondria were isolated. Hypercholesterolemia increased the cellular cardiac concentrations of cholesterol, cholesterol precursors and oxysterols both in cytosol and mitochondria in non-ischemic conditions. It also amplified the accumulation of all these compounds in cardiac cells and the alteration of mitochondrial function with ischemia-reperfusion. Administration of 4′-chlorodiazepam to ZDF fa/fa rats had no effect on the enhancement of sterols and oxysterols observed in the cytosols but inhibited cholesterol transfer to the mitochondria. It also alleviated the mitochondrial accumulation of all the investigated sterols and oxysterols. This was associated with a restoration of oxidative phosphorylation and a prevention of mitochondrial transition pore opening.
The inhibition of cholesterol accumulation with TSPO ligands represents an interesting strategy to protect the mitochondria during ischemia-reperfusion in hypercholesterolemic conditions.