Mitochondrial DNA mutation and the ageing process: bioenergy and pharmacological intervention

Mutat Res. 1992 Sep;275(3-6):195-208. doi: 10.1016/0921-8734(92)90023-i.


A comprehensive hypothesis concerning the contribution of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations to the human ageing process is reviewed and the implications for cellular bioenergy loss and pharmacological therapy are considered. The central idea is that random mutations in the population of mtDNA molecules of each cell occur throughout life, and that this is a major contributor to the gradual loss of cellular bioenergy capacity within tissues and organs, associated with general senescence and diseases of ageing. An elaboration of four major aspects of the general proposition, together with relevant supporting data, is presented. (1) An extensive array of deletions in mtDNA of many tissues of humans and other mammals has been observed to occur in an age-related manner. (2) The preservation and selection of fully functional mtDNA molecules in the female germ line cells is proposed to occur via a human mtDNA cycle, in which selective amplification of a limited number of mtDNA templates occurs during oocyte development. This proposal explains the endowment of normal neonates with a mtDNA complement minimally contaminated by damaged mtDNA molecules. The phenomena of maternal inheritance and rapid fixation of sequence variants of mtDNA in mammals, as well as selection of cells based on mitochondrial function, are taken into account. (3) Tissue bioenergy mosaics result from accumulated mtDNA damage during ageing, representing different rates of cellular bioenergy loss within individual cells of a tissue. The random segregation of mtDNA during cell division will also further contribute to the tissue energy mosaic. Cells unable to meet their particular bioenergy demand will become non-functional, leading to cell death; the bioenergy threshold is different for the various cell types in the tissues of the body. (4) In order to bioenergetically resuscitate cells and tissues suffering from impaired mitochondrial functions as a result of the ageing process, we propose that redox compounds may be used therapeutically in the pharmacological configurations of a by-pass strategy or as a redox sink therapy. The role of these compounds is to maintain at least part of the mitochondrial respiratory chain function (by-pass) as well as to maintain adequate levels of cellular NAD+ (redox sink) for ATP synthesis, predominantly by the cytosolic glycolytic pathway, with some contribution from mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / drug effects
  • Aging / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / drug effects
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / metabolism*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Genome, Human
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Middle Aged
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation*
  • Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid
  • Sequence Deletion*


  • DNA, Mitochondrial