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The expression of mitochondrial components is controlled by an intricate interplay between nuclear transcription factors and retrograde signaling from mitochondria. The role of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and mtDNA-encoded proteins in mitochondrial biogenesis is, however, poorly understood and thus far has mainly been studied in transformed cell lines. We treated primary human fibroblasts with ethidium bromide (EtBr) or chloramphenicol for six weeks to inhibit mtDNA replication or mitochondrial protein synthesis, respectively, and investigated how the cells recovered from these insults two weeks after removal of the drugs. Although cellular growth and mitochondrial gene expression were severely impaired after both inhibitor treatments we observed marked differences in mitochondrial structure, membrane potential, glycolysis, gene expression, and redox status between fibroblasts treated with EtBr and chloramphenicol. Following removal of the drugs we further detected clear differences in expression of both mtDNA-encoded genes and nuclear transcription factors that control mitochondrial biogenesis, suggesting that the cells possess different compensatory mechanisms to recover from drug-induced mitochondrial dysfunction. Our data reveal new aspects of the interplay between mitochondrial retrograde signaling and the expression of nuclear regulators of mitochondrial biogenesis, a process with direct relevance to mitochondrial diseases and chloramphenicol toxicity in humans.