Linking Mitochondrial Dysfunction to Organismal and Population Health in the Context of Environmental Pollutants: Progress and Considerations for Mitochondrial Adverse Outcome Pathways

Environ Toxicol Chem. 2019 Aug;38(8):1625-1634. doi: 10.1002/etc.4453.


Mitochondria are key targets of many environmental contaminants, because specific chemicals can interact directly with mitochondrial proteins, lipids, and ribonucleic acids. These direct interactions serve as molecular initiating events that impede adenosine triphosphate production and other critical functions that mitochondria serve within the cell (e.g., calcium and metal homeostasis, apoptosis, immune signaling, redox balance). A limited but growing number of adverse outcome pathways (AOPs) have been proposed to associate mitochondrial dysfunction with effects at organismal and population levels. These pathways involve key events such as altered membrane potential, mitochondrial fission/fusion, and mitochondrial DNA damage, among others. The present critical review and analysis reveals current progress on AOPs involving mitochondrial dysfunction, and, using a network-based computational approach, identifies the localization of mitochondrial molecular initiating events and key events within multiple existing AOPs. We also present 2 case studies, the first examining the interaction between mitochondria and immunotoxicity, and the second examining the role of early mitochondrial dysfunction in the context of behavior (i.e., locomotor activity). We discuss limitations in our current understanding of mitochondrial AOPs and highlight opportunities for clarifying their details. Advancing our knowledge of key event relationships within the AOP framework will require high-throughput datasets that permit the development and testing of chemical-agnostic AOPs, as well as high-resolution research that will enhance the mechanistic testing and validation of these key event relationships. Given the wide range of chemicals that affect mitochondria, and the centrality of energy production and signaling to ecologically important outcomes such as pathogen defense, homeostasis, growth, and reproduction, a better understanding of mitochondrial AOPs is expected to play a significant, if not central, role in environmental toxicology. Environ Toxicol Chem 2019;38:1625-1634. © 2019 SETAC.

Keywords: Adverse outcome pathways; High-throughput screening; Immune toxicity; Locomotion; Mitochondria; Weight of evidence.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adverse Outcome Pathways*
  • Animals
  • Ecotoxicology / methods*
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / drug effects*
  • Mitochondria / physiology
  • Mitochondrial Dynamics / drug effects
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Population Health
  • Risk Assessment


  • Environmental Pollutants