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Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2009 Oct;41(10):2062-8. doi: 10.1016/j.biocel.2009.02.002. Epub 2009 Feb 13.

Electron microscopy morphology of the mitochondrial network in human cancer.

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Laboratorio de Microscopia Electronica-Instituto de Investigaciones Biológicas-Universidad del Zulia, Servicio de Patología-Hospital General del Sur Dr. Pedro Iturbe, Maracaibo, Venezuela.


Mitochondria have been implicated in the process of carcinogenesis, which includes alterations of cellular metabolism and cell death pathways. The aim of this review is to describe and analyze the electron microscopy morphology of the mitochondrial network in human cancer. The structural mitochondrial alterations in human tumors are heterogeneous and not specific for any neoplasm. These findings could be representing an altered structural and functional mitochondrial network. The mitochondria in cancer cells, independently of histogenesis, predominantly are seen with lucent-swelling matrix associated with disarrangement and distortion of cristae and partial or total cristolysis and with condensed configuration in minor scale. Mitochondrial changes are associated with mitochondrial-DNA mutations, tumoral microenvironment conditions and mitochondrial fusion-fission disequilibrium. Functionally, the structural alterations suppose the presence of hypoxia-tolerant and hypoxia-sensitive cancer cells. Possibly, hypoxia-tolerant cells are related with mitochondrial condensed appearance and are competent to produce adequate amount of ATP by mitochondrial respiration. Hypoxia-sensitive cells are linked with lucent-swelling and cristolysis mitochondria profile and have an inefficient or null oxidative phosphorylation, which consequently use the glycolytic pathway to generate energy. Additionally, mitochondrial fragmentation is associated with apoptosis; however, alterations in the mitochondrial network are linked with the reduction in sensitivity to apoptosis induces and/or pro-apoptotic conditions. Pharmacological approaches designed to act on both glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation can be considered as a new approach to selectively kill cancer cells.

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