Mitochondria in skin health, aging, and disease

Cell Death Dis. 2020 Jun 9;11(6):444. doi: 10.1038/s41419-020-2649-z.


The skin is a high turnover organ, and its constant renewal depends on the rapid proliferation of its progenitor cells. The energy requirement for these metabolically active cells is met by mitochondrial respiration, an ATP generating process driven by a series of protein complexes collectively known as the electron transport chain (ETC) that is located on the inner membrane of the mitochondria. However, reactive oxygen species (ROS) like superoxide, singlet oxygen, peroxides are inevitably produced during respiration and disrupt macromolecular and cellular structures if not quenched by the antioxidant system. The oxidative damage caused by mitochondrial ROS production has been established as the molecular basis of multiple pathophysiological conditions, including aging and cancer. Not surprisingly, the mitochondria are the primary organelle affected during chronological and UV-induced skin aging, the phenotypic manifestations of which are the direct consequence of mitochondrial dysfunction. Also, deletions and other aberrations in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) are frequent in photo-aged skin and skin cancer lesions. Recent studies have revealed a more innate role of the mitochondria in maintaining skin homeostasis and pigmentation, which are affected when the essential mitochondrial functions are impaired. Some common and rare skin disorders have a mitochondrial involvement and include dermal manifestations of primary mitochondrial diseases as well as congenital skin diseases caused by damaged mitochondria. With studies increasingly supporting the close association between mitochondria and skin health, its therapeutic targeting in the skin-either via an ATP production boost or free radical scavenging-has gained attention from clinicians and aestheticians alike. Numerous bioactive compounds have been identified that improve mitochondrial functions and have proved effective against aged and diseased skin. In this review, we discuss the essential role of mitochondria in regulating normal and abnormal skin physiology and the possibility of targeting this organelle in various skin disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Regeneration
  • Skin / metabolism*
  • Skin / pathology*
  • Skin Aging / pathology*
  • Skin Diseases / metabolism*
  • Skin Diseases / pathology*