The variability of the mitochondrial genome in human aging: a key for life and death?

Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2002 Nov;34(11):1449-60. doi: 10.1016/s1357-2725(02)00042-0.


The impressive performance of the research in mitochondrial genetics and human aging in the last decade outlines a new scenery in which the inherited variation of the mitochondrial genome (mtDNA) may play a role in rate and quality of aging. This variation in humans was initially looked at as nearly neutral, and useful just for the reconstruction of human population history. However, recent data suggest that different mtDNA molecules are qualitatively different from each other. The aim of this paper is to discuss current ideas on the relationships among mitochondrial function, mtDNA inherited variation, and aging. The main processes where the mitochondrion is involved and the importance these processes have on aging and death of individuals will be described. A possible connection between programmed death phenomena (mitoptosis, apoptosis, phenoptosis) and rate and quality of aging will be discussed. Finally, the possible role played in these processes by the mtDNA germline variation will be explored.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / classification
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / genetics*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation
  • Phylogeny


  • DNA, Mitochondrial