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J Cell Sci. 2006 Jul 15;119(Pt 14):2855-62.

Nitric oxide and mitochondrial biogenesis.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, Chemotherapy and Medical Toxicology, School of Medicine, Milan University, via Vanvitelli 32, 20129 Milan, Italy.


The characteristic structural organization of mitochondria is the product of synthesis of macromolecules within the mitochondria together with the import of proteins and lipids synthesized outside the organelle. Synthetic and import processes are required for mitochondrial proliferation and might also facilitate the growth of pre-existing mitochondria. Recent evidence indicates that these events are regulated in a complex way by several agonists and environmental conditions, through activation of specific signaling pathways and transcription factors. A newly discovered role of this organelle in retrograde intracellular signaling back to the nucleus has also emerged. This is likely to have far-reaching implications in development, aging, disease and environmental adaptation. Generation of nitric oxide (NO) appears to be an important player in these processes, possibly acting as a unifying molecular switch to trigger the whole mitochondrial biogenesis process. High levels of NO acutely inhibit cell respiration by binding to cytochrome c oxidase. Conversely, chronic, smaller increases in NO levels stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis in diverse cell types. NO-induced mitochondrial biogenesis seems to be linked to proliferation and differentiation of normal and tumor cells, as well as in aging.

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