How mitochondrial damage affects cell function

J Biomed Sci. 2002;9(6 Pt 1):475-87. doi: 10.1159/000064721.


The pathophysiology of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) diseases is caused by increased cell death and dysfunction due to the accumulation of mutations to mtDNA. While the disruption of oxidative phosphorylation is central to mtDNA diseases, many other factors, such as Ca(2+) dyshomeostasis, increased oxidative stress and defective turnover of mitochondrial proteins, may also contribute. The relative importance of these processes in causing cell dysfunction and death is uncertain. It is also unclear whether these damaging processes lead to the disease phenotype through affecting cell function, increasing cell death or a combination of both. These uncertainties limit our understanding of mtDNA disease pathophysiology and our ability to develop rational therapies. Here, we outline how the accumulation of mtDNA mutations can lead to cell dysfunction by altering oxidative phosphorylation, Ca(2+) homeostasis, oxidative stress and protein turnover and discuss how these processes affect cell function and susceptibility to cell death. A better understanding of these processes will eventually clarify why particular mtDNA mutations cause defined syndromes in some cases but not in others and why the same mutation can lead to different phenotypes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cell Death / genetics
  • Cells / metabolism*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / metabolism
  • Homeostasis / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / physiology*
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / genetics
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / metabolism*
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / pathology
  • Mutation
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Phosphorylation
  • Proteins / metabolism


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Proteins
  • Calcium