A "mitochondrial cascade hypothesis" for sporadic Alzheimer's disease

Med Hypotheses. 2004;63(1):8-20. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2003.12.045.


Alzheimer's disease (AD) includes etiologically heterogeneous disorders characterized by senile or presenile dementia, extracellular amyloid protein aggregations containing an insoluble amyloid precursor protein derivative, and intracytoplasmic tau protein aggregations. Recent studies also show excess neuronal aneuploidy, programmed cell death (PCD), and mitochondrial dysfunction. The leading AD molecular paradigm, the "amyloid cascade hypothesis", is based on studies of rare autosomal dominant variants and does not specify what initiates the common late-onset, sporadic form. We propose for late-onset, sporadic AD a "mitochondrial cascade hypothesis" that comprehensively reconciles seemingly disparate histopathologic and pathophysiologic features. In our model, the inherited, gene-determined make-up of an individual's electron transport chain sets basal rates of reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, which determines the pace at which acquired mitochondrial damage accumulates. Oxidative mitochondrial DNA, RNA, lipid, and protein damage amplifies ROS production and triggers three events: (1) a reset response in which cells respond to elevated ROS by generating the beta-sheet protein, beta amyloid, which further perturbs mitochondrial function, (2) a removal response in which compromised cells are purged via PCD mechanisms, and (3) a replace response in which neuronal progenitors unsuccessfully attempt to re-enter the cell cycle, with resultant aneuploidy, tau phosphorylation, and neurofibrillary tangle formation. In addition to defining a role for aging in AD pathogenesis, the mitochondrial cascade hypothesis also allows and accounts for histopathologic overlap between the sporadic, late-onset and autosomal dominant, early onset forms of the disease.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / metabolism
  • Alzheimer Disease / etiology
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology*
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / metabolism
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Cerebral Amyloid Angiopathy / complications
  • Cerebral Amyloid Angiopathy / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / complications
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / metabolism
  • Models, Biological*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • Reactive Oxygen Species