Adaptation to metabolic dysfunction during aging: Making the best of a bad situation

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Mitochondria play a central role in energy metabolism in the process of oxidative phosphorylation. As importantly, they are key in several anabolic processes, including amino acid biosynthesis, nucleotide biosynthesis, heme biosynthesis, and the formation of iron-sulfur clusters. Mitochondria are also engaged in waste removal in the urea cycle. Their activity can lead to the formation of reactive oxygen species which have damaging effects in the cell. These organelles are dynamic, undergoing cycles of fission and fusion which can be coupled to their removal by mitophagy. In addition to these widely recognized processes, mitochondria communicate with other subcellular compartments. Various components of mitochondrial complexes are encoded by either the nuclear or the mitochondrial genome necessitating coordination between these two organelles. This article reviews another form of communication between the mitochondria and the nucleus, in which the dysfunction of the former triggers changes in the expression of nuclear genes to compensate for it. The most extensively studied of these signaling pathways is the retrograde response whose effectors and downstream targets have been characterized. This response extends yeast replicative lifespan by adapting the organism to the mitochondrial dysfunction. Similar responses have been found in several other organisms, including mammals. Declining health and function during human aging incurs energetic costs. This compensation plays out differently in males and females, and variation in nuclear genes whose products affect mitochondrial function influences the outcome. Thus, the theme of mitochondria-nucleus communication as an adaptive response during aging appears very widespread.HIGHLIGHTSMitochondrial dysfunction triggers a signaling pathway that activates nuclear gene expression.This retrograde response compensates for the dysfunction and promotes resistance to stress.The retrograde response is conserved across phylogeny.The frailty index quantifies biological age by using a systems approach.An increase in resting metabolic rate compensates for increased frailty that portends decline in integrated function.

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