Mitochondria: structure and function

Rev Neurol (Paris). 1991;147(6-7):417-30.


Mitochondria are the main site of ATP synthesis in aerobic cells, using the free energy of the oxidation of metabolic fuels by oxygen. They have a matrix space containing the enzymes of the citrate cycle and beta-oxidation, enclosed by an inner membrane containing the 4 complexes of the electron transport chain, ATP synthase and specific carriers for metabolites. Mitochondria also have a relatively permeable outer membrane and an intermembrane space. ATP synthesis (oxidative phosphorylation) is critically dependent on the structural integrity of the mitochondrion. Electrons from substrate oxidations feed into the electron transport chain at complex I or complex II, and then successively flow to complex III, complex IV and finally to oxygen. Complexes I, III and IV are redox pumps and electron transport causes extrusion of protons from the matrix generating an electrochemical proton gradient (proton motive force) across the inner membrane. Protons return to the matrix 'through' ATP synthase driving the synthesis of ATP. The stoichiometry of proton extrusion and the yield of ATP are still uncertain. Mitochondria have genetic continuity and are inherited maternally. They possess a small amount of DNA which codes for some, but not all, of the subunits of complexes I, III, IV of ATP synthase. mtDNA also codes for mitochondrial ribosomal and messenger RNAs involved in the synthesis of mitochondrially coded subunits. All other mitochondrial peptides are synthesised on cytosolic ribosomes and are imported and targeted to their specific intramitochondrial locations, often after proteolytic removal of leader sequences.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / biosynthesis*
  • Animals
  • Electron Transport / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Membranes / metabolism
  • Mitochondria, Muscle / metabolism
  • Mitochondria, Muscle / ultrastructure*
  • Proteins / metabolism


  • Proteins
  • Adenosine Triphosphate