The champions' mitochondria: is it genetically determined? A review on mitochondrial DNA and elite athletic performance

Physiol Genomics. 2011 Jul 14;43(13):789-98. doi: 10.1152/physiolgenomics.00029.2011. Epub 2011 May 3.


Aerobic ATP generation by the mitochondrial respiratory oxidative phosphorylation system (OXPHOS) is a vital metabolic process for endurance exercise. Notably, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) codifies 13 of the 83 polypeptides implied in the respiratory chain. As such, there is a strong rationale for identifying an association between mtDNA variants and "aerobic" (endurance) exercise phenotypes. The aim of this review is to summarize current knowledge on the association between mtDNA, nuclear genes involved in mitochondriogenesis, and elite endurance athletic status. Several studies in nonathletic people have demonstrated an association between certain mtDNA lineages and aerobic performance, characterized by maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max). Whether mtDNA haplogroups are also associated with the status of being an elite endurance athlete is more controversial, with differences between studies arising from the different ethnic backgrounds of the athletic cohorts (Caucasian of mixed geographic origin, Asiatic, or East African).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Performance / physiology*
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Genome, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / genetics*
  • Physical Endurance / genetics*


  • DNA, Mitochondrial