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Aging Cell. 2003 Feb;2(1):11-7.

The mitochondrial theory of aging: dead or alive?

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Institute of Medical Technology and Tampere University Hospital, FIN-33014 University of Tampere, Finland.


The mitochondrial theory of aging is based around the idea of a vicious cycle, in which somatic mutation of mtDNA engenders respiratory chain dysfunction, enhancing the production of DNA-damaging oxygen radicals. In turn, this is proposed to result in the accumulation of further mtDNA mutations. Finally, a bioenergetic crisis leads to overt tissue dysfunction and degeneration. A substantial body of circumstantial evidence seems to support this idea. However, the extent of detectable mtDNA mutation is far less than can easily be reconciled to this hypothesis, unless it is assumed that a subset of cells with much higher than average mtDNA mutation load is systematically lost by apoptosis. A rigorous test of the hypothesis remains to be undertaken, but would require a direct manipulation of the rate of mtDNA mutagenesis, to test whether this could alter the kinetics of aging.

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