Aged mammalian tissues show a decreased capacity to produce ATP by oxidative phosphorylation due to dysfunctional mitochondria. The mitochondrial content of rat brain and liver is not reduced in aging and the impairment of mitochondrial function is due to decreased rates of electron transfer by the selectively diminished activities of complexes I and IV. Inner membrane H(+) impermeability and F(1)-ATP synthase activity are only slightly affected by aging. Dysfunctional mitochondria in aged rodents are characterized, besides decreased electron transfer and O(2) uptake, by an increased content of oxidation products of phospholipids, proteins and DNA, a decreased membrane potential, and increased size and fragility. Free radical-mediated oxidations are determining factors of mitochondrial dysfunction and turnover, cell apoptosis, tissue function, and lifespan. Inner membrane enzyme activities, such as those of complexes I and IV and mitochondrial nitric oxide synthase, decrease upon aging and afford aging markers. The activities of these three enzymes in mice brain are linearly correlated with neurological performance, as determined by the tightrope and the T-maze tests. The same enzymatic activities correlated positively with mice survival and negatively with the mitochondrial content of lipid and protein oxidation products. Conditions that increase survival, as vitamin E dietary supplementation, caloric restriction, high spontaneous neurological activity, and moderate physical exercise, ameliorate mitochondrial dysfunction in aged brain and liver. The pleiotropic signaling of mitochondrial H(2)O(2) and nitric oxide diffusion to the cytosol seems modified in aged animals and to contribute to the decreased mitochondrial biogenesis in old animals.