Mitochondria: releasing power for life and unleashing the machineries of death

Cell. 2003 Feb 21;112(4):481-90. doi: 10.1016/s0092-8674(03)00116-8.


The mitochondrion has long been known both as a chemical powerplant and as a cellular compartment housing various biosynthetic pathways. However, studies on the function of mitochondria in apoptotic cell death have revealed a versatility and complexity of these organelles previously unsuspected. The mechanisms proposed for mitochondrial involvement in cell death are diverse and highly controversial. In one model, mitochondria are seen as passive containers that can be made to leak out cytotoxic proteins. In other scenarios, however, certain more or less familiar aspects of mitochondrial physiology, such as oxidative phosphorylation, generation of oxygen radicals, dynamic morphological rearrangements, calcium overload, and permeability transition, are proposed to play crucial roles. In this review, we examine a few promising mechanisms that have been gaining attention recently.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cardiolipins / metabolism
  • Cell Death
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Membranes / metabolism
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Mitochondria / physiology*
  • Mitochondria / ultrastructure
  • Models, Biological
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species


  • Cardiolipins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Reactive Oxygen Species