Mitochondria are the powerhouse that generate over 90% of the ATP produced in cells. In addition to its role in energy production, the mitochondrion also plays a major role in carbohydrate, fatty acid, amino acid and nucleotide metabolism, programmed cell death (apoptosis), generation of and protection against reactive oxygen species (ROS), immune response, regulation of intracellular calcium ion levels and even maintenance of gut microbiota. With its essential role in bio-energetic as well as non-energetic biological processes, it is not surprising that proper cellular, tissue and organ function is dependent upon proper mitochondrial function. Accordingly, mitochondrial dysfunction has been shown to be directly linked to a variety of medical disorders, particularly neuromuscular disorders and increasing evidence has linked mitochondrial dysfunction to neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disorders such as Alzheimer's Disease (AD), Parkinson's Disease (PD), Rett Syndrome (RS) and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Over the last 40 years there has been a dramatic increase in the diagnosis of ASD and, more recently, an increasing body of evidence indicates that mitochondrial dysfunction plays an important role in ASD development. In this review, the latest evidence linking mitochondrial dysfunction and abnormalities in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) to the pathogenesis of autism will be presented. This review will also summarize the results of several recent `approaches used for improving mitochondrial function that may lead to new therapeutic approaches to managing and/or treating ASD.
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