The role of mitochondrial DNA mutations in aging and sarcopenia: implications for the mitochondrial vicious cycle theory of aging

Exp Gerontol. 2008 Jan;43(1):24-33. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2007.10.001. Epub 2007 Oct 4.


Aging is associated with a progressive loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength and the mechanisms mediating these effects likely involve mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations, mitochondrial dysfunction and the activation of mitochondrial-mediated apoptosis. Because the mitochondrial genome is densely packed and close to the main generator of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the cell, the electron transport chain (ETC), an important role for mtDNA mutations in aging has been proposed. Point mutations and deletions in mtDNA accumulate with age in a wide variety of tissues in mammals, including humans, and often coincide with significant tissue dysfunction. Here, we examine the evidence supporting a causative role for mtDNA mutations in aging and sarcopenia. We review experimental outcomes showing that mtDNA mutations, leading to mitochondrial dysfunction and possibly apoptosis, are causal to the process of sarcopenia. Moreover, we critically discuss and dispute an important part of the mitochondrial 'vicious cycle' theory of aging which proposes that accumulation of mtDNA mutations may lead to an enhanced mitochondrial ROS production and ever increasing oxidative stress which ultimately leads to tissue deterioration and aging. Potential mechanism(s) by which mtDNA mutations may mediate their pathological consequences in skeletal muscle are also discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cellular Senescence / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Reactive Oxygen Species