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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Mitochondria as signaling organelles

Navdeep S Chandel

Author Affiliations

Section of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Department of Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL 60611, USA

BMC Biology 2014, 12:34  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-12-34

Published: 27 May 2014

Abstract

Almost 20 years ago, the discovery that mitochondrial release of cytochrome c initiates a cascade that leads to cell death brought about a wholesale change in how cell biologists think of mitochondria. Formerly viewed as sites of biosynthesis and bioenergy production, these double membrane organelles could now be thought of as regulators of signal transduction. Within a few years, multiple other mitochondria-centric signaling mechanisms have been proposed, including release of reactive oxygen species and the scaffolding of signaling complexes on the outer mitochondrial membrane. It has also been shown that mitochondrial dysfunction causes induction of stress responses, bolstering the idea that mitochondria communicate their fitness to the rest of the cell. In the past decade, multiple new modes of mitochondrial signaling have been discovered. These include the release of metabolites, mitochondrial motility and dynamics, and interaction with other organelles such as endoplasmic reticulum in regulating signaling. Collectively these studies have established that mitochondria-dependent signaling has diverse physiological and pathophysiological outcomes. This review is a brief account of recent work in mitochondria-dependent signaling in the historical framework of the early studies.