Green Buckeye RN

EHP: Mito-Conundrum: Unraveling Environmental Effects On Mitochondria
July 6, 2010, 11:09 am
Filed under: News

Citation: Schmidt CW 2010. Mito-Conundrum: Unraveling Environmental Effects on Mitochondria. Environ Health Perspect 118:a292-a297. doi:10.1289/ehp.118-a292

Look into any cell today, and you’ll see remnants of ancient bacteria by the thousands. These mitochondria—tiny organelles in the cell that each possess their own DNA—have come under a growing scientific spotlight; scientists increasingly believe they play a central role in many, if not most, human illnesses. Exquisitely sensitive to environmental threats, mitochondria convert dietary sugars into a high-energy molecule—adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—that cells use as fuel. And when mitochondria falter, cells lose power, just as a flashlight dims when its batteries weaken. Now scientists are linking environmental interactions with the mitochondria to an array of metabolic and age-related maladies, including cancer, autism, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, and cardiovascular illness.

Mitochondrial disease was featured as a research theme during the Society of Toxicology’s (SOT) 2010 annual meeting. Michael Holsapple, who chaired SOT’s science program committee, attributes that decision to a growing realization among toxicologists that mitochondrial genomes are uniquely susceptible to oxidative damage and stress. “They’ve got a much higher percentage of coding DNA in contrast to nuclear genomes, which contain long noncoding regions,” explains Holsapple, who is executive director of the International Life Sciences Institute’s Health and Environmental Sciences Institute in Washington, DC. “And what we’re learning is that they play a significant role in neurodegenerative diseases and metabolic syndrome, which is a more amorphous designation that reflects an epidemic of obesity. We see this as cutting-edge science.

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