Transcriptional Paradigms in Mammalian Mitochondrial Biogenesis and Function

Physiol Rev. 2008 Apr;88(2):611-38. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00025.2007.


Mitochondria contain their own genetic system and undergo a unique mode of cytoplasmic inheritance. Each organelle has multiple copies of a covalently closed circular DNA genome (mtDNA). The entire protein coding capacity of mtDNA is devoted to the synthesis of 13 essential subunits of the inner membrane complexes of the respiratory apparatus. Thus the majority of respiratory proteins and all of the other gene products necessary for the myriad mitochondrial functions are derived from nuclear genes. Transcription of mtDNA requires a small number of nucleus-encoded proteins including a single RNA polymerase (POLRMT), auxiliary factors necessary for promoter recognition (TFB1M, TFB2M) and activation (Tfam), and a termination factor (mTERF). This relatively simple system can account for the bidirectional transcription of mtDNA from divergent promoters and key termination events controlling the rRNA/mRNA ratio. Nucleomitochondrial interactions depend on the interplay between transcription factors (NRF-1, NRF-2, PPARalpha, ERRalpha, Sp1, and others) and members of the PGC-1 family of regulated coactivators (PGC-1alpha, PGC-1beta, and PRC). The transcription factors target genes that specify the respiratory chain, the mitochondrial transcription, translation and replication machinery, and protein import and assembly apparatus among others. These factors are in turn activated directly or indirectly by PGC-1 family coactivators whose differential expression is controlled by an array of environmental signals including temperature, energy deprivation, and availability of nutrients and growth factors. These transcriptional paradigms provide a basic framework for understanding the integration of mitochondrial biogenesis and function with signaling events that dictate cell- and tissue-specific energetic properties.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / chemistry
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Molecular Structure
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • DNA, Mitochondrial