Known unknowns of cardiolipin signaling: The best is yet to come

Biochim Biophys Acta Mol Cell Biol Lipids. 2017 Jan;1862(1):8-24. doi: 10.1016/j.bbalip.2016.08.001. Epub 2016 Aug 4.


Since its discovery 75years ago, a wealth of knowledge has accumulated on the role of cardiolipin, the hallmark phospholipid of mitochondria, in bioenergetics and particularly on the structural organization of the inner mitochondrial membrane. A surge of interest in this anionic doubly-charged tetra-acylated lipid found in both prokaryotes and mitochondria has emerged based on its newly discovered signaling functions. Cardiolipin displays organ, tissue, cellular and transmembrane distribution asymmetries. A collapse of the membrane asymmetry represents a pro-mitophageal mechanism whereby externalized cardiolipin acts as an "eat-me" signal. Oxidation of cardiolipin's polyunsaturated acyl chains - catalyzed by cardiolipin complexes with cytochrome c. - is a pro-apoptotic signal. The messaging functions of myriads of cardiolipin species and their oxidation products are now being recognized as important intracellular and extracellular signals for innate and adaptive immune systems. This newly developing field of research exploring cardiolipin signaling is the main subject of this review. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Lipids of Mitochondria edited by Guenther Daum.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Cardiolipin oxidation; Cardiolipin signaling; Innate and adaptive immunity; Mitophagy; Peroxidase.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cardiolipins / metabolism*
  • Cytochromes c / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitochondrial Membranes / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Phospholipids / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Cardiolipins
  • Phospholipids
  • Cytochromes c