Historically, mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (mROS) were thought to exclusively cause cellular damage and lack a physiological function. Accumulation of ROS and oxidative damage have been linked to multiple pathologies, including neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, cancer, and premature aging. Thus, mROS were originally envisioned as a necessary evil of oxidative metabolism, a product of an imperfect system. Yet few biological systems possess such flagrant imperfections, thanks to the persistent optimization of evolution, and it appears that oxidative metabolism is no different. More and more evidence suggests that mROS are critical for healthy cell function. In this Review, we discuss this evidence following some background on the generation and regulation of mROS.
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