Mitochondrial DNA mutations as a fundamental mechanism in physiological declines associated with aging

Aging Cell. 2003 Feb;2(1):1-7. doi: 10.1046/j.1474-9728.2003.00034.x.


The hypothesis that mitochondrial DNA damage accumulates and contributes to aging was proposed decades ago. Only recently have technological advancements, which facilitate microanalysis of single cells or portions of cells, revealed that mtDNA deletion mutations and, perhaps, single nucleotide mutations accumulate to physiologically relevant levels in the tissues of various species with age. Although a link between single nucleotide mutations and physiological consequences in aging tissue has not been established, the accumulation of deletion mutations in skeletal muscle fibres has been associated with sarcopenia. Different, and apparently random, deletion mutations are specific to individual fibres. However, the mtDNA deletion mutation within a phenotypically abnormal region of a fibre is the same, suggesting a selection, amplification and clonal expansion of the initial deletion mutation. mtDNA deletion mutations within a muscle fibre are associated with specific electron transport system abnormalities, muscle fibre atrophy and fibre breakage. These data point to a causal relationship between mitochondrial DNA mutations and the age-related loss of muscle mass.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • DNA Damage
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / cytology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Muscular Diseases / genetics
  • Mutation*


  • DNA, Mitochondrial