Mitochondrial aging: open questions

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1998 Nov 20:854:118-27. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1998.tb09897.x.


Interest in the role of mitochondria in aging has intensified in recent years. This focus on mitochondria originated in part from the free radical theory of aging, which argues that oxidative damage plays a key role in degenerative senescence. Among the numerous mechanisms known to generate oxidants, leakage of the superoxide anion and hydrogen peroxide from the mitochondrial electron transport chain are of particular interest, due to the correlation between species-specific metabolic rate ("rate of living") and life span. Phenomenological studies of mitochondrial function long ago noted a decline in mitochondrial function with age, and on-going research continues to add to this body of knowledge. The extranuclear somatic mutation theory of aging proposes that the accumulation of mutations in the mitochondrial genome may be responsible in part for the mitochondrial phenomenology of aging. Recent studies of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) deletions have shown that they increase with age in humans and other mammals. Currently, there exist numerous important and fundamental questions surrounding mitochondria and aging. Among these are (1) How important are mitochondrial oxidants in determining overall cellular oxidative stress? (2) What are the mechanisms of mitochondrial oxidant generation? (3) How are lesions and mutations in mtDNA formed? (4) How important are mtDNA lesions and mutations in causing mitochondrial dysfunction? (5) How are mitochondria regulated, and how does this regulation change during aging? (6) What are the dynamics of mitochondrial turnover? (7) What is the relationship between mitochondrial damage and lipofuscinogenesis? (8) What are the relationships among mitochondria, apopotosis, and aging? and (9) How can mitochondrial function (ATP generation and the establishment of a membrane potential) and dysfunction (oxidant generation) be modulated and degenerative senescence thereby treated?

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy
  • Longevity
  • Mammals
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Mutation
  • Oxidants / metabolism
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation


  • Antioxidants
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Oxidants