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May 22, 1996

A Role for Mitochondria in Age-Related Disorders?

JAMA. 1996;275(20):1531-1532. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530440009003

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MITOCHONDRIAL diseases may hold clues to aging and an array of age-related degenerative disorders, from Alzheimer disease to heart failure, according to a leading expert on the tiny organelles that serve as the body's power plants.

"We envision the plethora of progressive degenerative diseases due to mitochondrial dysfunction and aging as a continuum, [resulting from] the same process," said Douglas C. Wallace, PhD, at a recent conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, on "Genetic Susceptibility and Complex Traits," cosponsored by the journal Nature Genetics and the Canadian Genetics Diseases Network.

Mitochondrial diseases such as Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (a maternally inherited condition resulting in adult-onset vision loss) typically have a delayed onset and progress with age. Wallace, of Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Ga, said recent findings suggest that an age-related decline in the mitochondria's ability to generate energy not only helps trigger the onset of mitochondrial DNA diseases but