Different tissues display distinct sensitivities to defective mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS). Tissues highly dependent on oxygen such as the cardiac muscle, skeletal and smooth muscle, the central and peripheral nervous system, the kidney, and the insulin-producing pancreatic beta-cell are especially susceptible to defective OXPHOS. There is evidence that defective OXPHOS plays an important role in atherogenesis, in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, and aging. Defective OXPHOS may be caused by abnormal mitochondrial biosynthesis due to inherited or acquired mutations in the nuclear (n) or mitochondrial (mt) deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). For instance, the presence of a mutation of the mtDNA in the pancreatic beta-cell impairs adenosine triphosphate (ATP) generation and insulin synthesis. The nuclear genome controls mitochondrial biosynthesis, but mtDNA has a much higher mutation rate than nDNA because it lacks histones and is exposed to the radical oxygen species (ROS) generated by the electron transport chain, and the mtDNA repair system is limited. Defective OXPHOS may be caused by insufficient fuel supply, by defective electron transport chain enzymes (Complexes I - IV), lack of the electron carrier coenzyme Q10, lack of oxygen due to ischemia or anemia, or excessive membrane leakage, resulting in insufficient mitochondrial inner membrane potential for ATP synthesis by the F0F1-ATPase. Human tissues can counteract OXPHOS defects by stimulating mitochondrial biosynthesis; however, above a certain threshold the lack of ATP causes cell death. Many agents affect OXPHOS. Several nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) inhibit or uncouple OXPHOS and induce the 'topical' phase of gastrointestinal ulcer formation. Uncoupled mitochondria reduce cell viability. The Helicobacter pylori induces uncoupling. The uncoupling that opens the membrane pores can activate apoptosis. Cholic acid in experimental atherogenic diets inhibits Complex IV, cocaine inhibits Complex I, the poliovirus inhibits Complex II, ceramide inhibits Complex III, azide, cyanide, chloroform, and methamphetamine inhibit Complex IV. Ethanol abuse and antiviral nucleoside analogue therapy inhibit mtDNA replication. By contrast, melatonin stimulates Complexes I and IV and Gingko biloba stimulates Complexes I and III. Oral Q10 supplementation is effective in treating cardiomyopathies and in restoring plasma levels reduced by the statin type of cholesterol-lowering drugs.