Although the concept of energy starvation in the failing heart was proposed decades ago, still very little is known about the origin of energetic failure. Recent advances in molecular biology have started to elucidate the transcriptional events governing mitochondrial biogenesis. In particular, a great step was taken with the discovery that peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma co-activator (PGC-1alpha) is the master regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis. The molecular mechanisms underlying the downregulation of PGC-1alpha and the consequent decrease in mitochondrial function in heart failure are, however, still poorly understood. Indeed, the main pathways involved in mitochondrial biogenesis are thought to be up- rather than down-regulated in pathological hypertrophy and heart failure. The current review summarizes recent advances in this field and is restricted to the heart when cardiac data are available.