Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Mitochondrial Health

What are mitochondria and how do they relate to aging?



Jeff Stuart
Associate Professor, Biological Sciences
Faculty of Mathematics and Science

Mitochondria are organelles that are present in cells in your body. Sometimes they have the term ‘the powerhouse of the cell’ because of their role in making ATP. When you eat food, your body breaks it down into tiny little individual molecules that make their way into cells and then into mitochondria where they’re oxidized. And that oxidation produces ATP that your body uses to drive everything it does, whether moving your arms and legs or re-absorbing things in your kidney.

Mitochondria are thought to be involved in the aging process. A lot of cells in the human body will live the entire adult lifespan, so the neurons that are in your spinal cord, for example, you’re not regenerating those and turning them over; those are with you for life. Over time, that mitochondrial genome can change; over a lifespan it can change. It accumulates damage and mutation and eventually that can lead to the loss of function. As people age, the burden of mutations in mitochondrial DNA does, in fact, increase. The burden of damage in mitochondrial DNA also increases.

Sometimes, people who are interested in aging more slowly and solving those types of problems will try to understand more about what is regulating all of this because if you can encourage either a diet or it could even be some kind of drug that maintains that mitochondrial genome, that population of mitochondria, in an unmutated and highly interconnected state, you could probably slow down the rate at which cells decay and degenerate, and that could affect aging.

We know of hundreds of different mitochondrial diseases, many of which are associated with premature aging, with fast rates of aging. One of the things that we are trying to do is to design drugs that we can target to mitochondria to address those problems. Learn more about Research at Brock, by visiting https://brocku.ca/research-at-brock/.

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