Mitochondria and degenerative disorders

Am J Med Genet. Spring 2001;106(1):27-36. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.1425.


In mammalian cells, mitochondria provide energy from aerobic metabolism. They play an important regulatory role in apoptosis, produce and detoxify free radicals, and serve as a cellular calcium buffer. Neurodegenerative disorders involving mitochondria can be divided into those caused by oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) abnormalities either due to mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) abnormalities, e.g., chronic external ophthalmoplegia, or due to nuclear mutations of OXPHOS proteins, e.g., complex I and II associated with Leigh syndrome. There are diseases caused by nuclear genes encoding non-OXPHOS mitochondrial proteins, such as frataxin in Friedreich ataxia (which is likely to play an important role in mitochondrial-cytosolic iron cycling), paraplegin (possibly a mitochondrial ATP-dependent zinc metalloprotease of the AAA-ATPases in hereditary spastic paraparesis), and possibly Wilson disease protein (an abnormal copper transporting ATP-dependent P-type ATPase associated with Wilson disease). Huntingon disease is an example of diseases with OXPHOS defects associated with mutations of nuclear genes encoding non-mitochondrial proteins such as huntingtin. There are also disorders with evidence of mitochondrial involvement that cannot as yet be assigned. These include Parkinson disease (where a complex I defect is described and free radicals are generated from dopamine metabolism), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and Alzheimer disease, where there is evidence to suggest mitochondrial involvement perhaps secondary to other abnormalities.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphatases / metabolism
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Alzheimer Disease / genetics
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Hepatolenticular Degeneration / genetics
  • Humans
  • Huntington Disease / genetics
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / genetics*
  • Mutation
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / genetics*
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Parkinson Disease / genetics
  • Phosphorylation
  • Spastic Paraplegia, Hereditary / genetics


  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Adenosine Triphosphatases
  • Oxygen