Reconsidering the Role of Mitochondria in Aging

Marta Gonzalez-Freire, Rafael De Cabo, Michel Bernier, Steven J. Sollott, Elisa Fabbri, Placido Navas, Luigi Ferrucci

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


Background: Mitochondrial dysfunction has long been considered a major contributor to aging and age-related diseases. Harman's Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging postulated that somatic mitochondrial DNA mutations that accumulate over the life span cause excessive production of reactive oxygen species that damage macromolecules and impair cell and tissue function. Indeed, studies have shown that maximal oxidative capacity declines with age while reactive oxygen species production increases. Harman's hypothesis has been seriously challenged by recent studies showing that reactive oxygen species evoke metabolic health and longevity, perhaps through hormetic mechanisms that include autophagy. The purpose of this review is to scan the ever-growing literature on mitochondria from the perspective of aging research and try to identify priority questions that should be addressed in future research. Methods: A systematic search of peer-reviewed studies was performed using PubMed. Search terms included (i) mitochondria or mitochondrial; (ii) aging, ageing, older adults or elderly; and (iii) reactive oxygen species, mitochondria dynamics, mitochondrial proteostasis, cytosol, mitochondrial-associated membranes, redox homeostasis, electron transport chain, electron transport chain efficiency, epigenetic regulation, DNA heteroplasmy. Results: The importance of mitochondrial biology as a trait d'union between the basic biology of aging and the pathogenesis of age-related diseases is stronger than ever, although the emphasis has moved from reactive oxygen species production to other aspects of mitochondrial physiology, including mitochondrial biogenesis and turnover, energy sensing, apoptosis, senescence, and calcium dynamics. Conclusions: Mitochondria could play a key role in the pathophysiology of aging or in the earlier stages of some events that lead to the aging phenotype. Therefore, mitochondria will increasingly be targeted to prevent and treat chronic diseases and to promote healthy aging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1334-1342
Number of pages9
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Aging
  • Lifespan
  • Mitochondria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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