Normal ageing is associated with a gradual decline in the capacity of various cell types, including neurones, to respond to metabolic stress and return to the resting state. An important factor in the decrease of this 'homeostatic reserve' is the gradual, age-dependent impairment of mitochondrial function. In this article we review some of the major structural and functional changes in mitochondria associated with ageing. Apart from the increased mutations in mitochondrial DNA and the evidence for increased oxidative stress with ageing, we also discuss, in some detail, the importance of the mitochondrial membrane structure and composition (in particular lipid composition) for mitochondrial function in general and during ageing. Although some of the neurodegenerative diseases are also associated with some degree of mitochondrial dysfunction, it is not yet clear if these changes are due to the underlining process of normal, physiological ageing or due to the specific pathophysiologic agents responsible for the neurodegenerative processes. Furthermore, we are proposing that there are important differences between normal ageing and neurodegeneration.
Copyright 2000 Harcourt Publishers Ltd.