This work reviews the role of mitochondria in the ageing process and summarizes pathomorphological biochemical and molecular genetic data. The pathophysiological mechanisms underlying the phenomenon of ageing are only partly understood. There is, however, increasing evidence that mitochondria are essentially involved. In various tissues of various species a decline in the respiratory chain capacity is seen with ageing. Enzyme histochemistry of cytochrome c oxidase (complex IV of the respiratory chain) has revealed an age-related increase of randomly distributed defective fibres/cells in the skeletal and heart muscle the random pattern probably indicating cellular heterogeneity of the ageing process. Observed deletions of mitochondrial DNA during ageing may represent one causative factor. Similar to primary mitochondrial myopathies point mutations and depletion of the mtDNA are probably also involved. There is some evidence that damage of the mitochondrial genome and of other mitochondrial structures might be due to increased oxygen radical production during ageing. The role of nuclear influences on the degeneration of mitochondrial function remains, however, also to be determined. Nevertheless, the decline of respiratory chain function with ageing represents an important factor for the decline of functional organ reserve capacity in senescence.