A project of the New Mexico AIDS Education and Training Center. Partially funded by the National Library of Medicine
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Fact Sheet Number 556
WHAT ARE MITOCHONDRIA?
Mitochondria (my-toe-con´-dree-a) are
small “organs” in our cells. They are the
cell’s power plant. They use oxygen, fat
to produce adenosine
triphosphate (ATP). This process is
called “cellular respiration.” When the
cell needs energy, it breaks down
molecules of ATP to release the stored
The more energy the cell needs, the
more mitochondria it contains. One cell
can have anywhere
mitochondria up to thousands. The
highest numbers are found in nerve,
muscle, and liver cells.
mitochondria are the key to aging. As
we grow older, our mitochondria collect
more and more mutations. Our cells
have a way to check for mistakes
(mutations) when they multiply, but
Mitochondrial toxicity (MT) is damage
mitochondria. If there are too few
mitochondria in a cell, it might stop
working properly. It’s not clear how
much loss of mitochondria can occur
before there is loss of cell function.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF
One of the most common signs of MT is
muscle weakness (myopathy). If muscle
cells can’t get enough energy through
cellular respiration, they have to get
“anaerobic” energy production creates
lactic acid as a waste product.
Lactic acid can cause sore muscles.
For example, the soreness people feel
after running a marathon is caused by a
buildup of lactic acid.
Some people with MT have very high
levels of lactic acid in their blood. This
rare condition is called lactic acidosis.
There is a blood test for lactic acid
levels, but experts disagree on how to