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Antioxid Redox Signal. 2011 Dec 15;15(12):3039-59. doi: 10.1089/ars.2011.4021. Epub 2011 Jul 18.

Mitochondrial effects of plant-made compounds.

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CNR Institute of Neuroscience, Department of Experimental Biomedical Sciences, University of Padova, Padova, Italy.



Plants produce many small molecules with biomedical potential. Their absorption from foods, metabolism, their effects on physiological and pathological processes, and the mechanisms of action are intensely investigated. Many are known to affect multiple cellular functions. Mitochondria are coming to be recognized as a major target for these compounds, especially redox-active ones, but the mechanisms involved still need clarification. At the same time, frontline research is uncovering the importance of processes involving these organelles for the cell and for an array of physiological and pathological processes. We review the major functions and possible dysfunctions of mitochondria, identify signaling pathways through which plant-derived molecules have an impact, and show how this may be relevant for major pathologies.


Antioxidant, protective effects may arise as a reaction to a low-level pro-oxidant activity, largely taking place at mitochondria. Some plant-derived molecules can activate AMP-dependent kinase, with a consequent upregulation of mitochondrial biogenesis and a potential favorable impact on aging, pathologies like diabetes and neurodegeneration, and on ischemic damage.


The extrapolation of in vitro results and the verification of paradigms in vivo is a key issue for current research on both plant-derived compounds and mitochondria. The low bioavailability of many of these molecules poses a problem for both the study of their activities and their utilization.


The further clarification of the role of mitochondria in the activities of plant dietary compounds and their metabolites, mitochondrial targeting, the development of analogs and pro-drugs are all topics for promising research.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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