|Journal||Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine|
Mitochondria undergo structural changes simultaneously with their functional changes in both physiological and pathological conditions. These structural changes of mitochondria are classified into two categories: simple swelling and the formation of megamitochondria (MG). Data have been accumulated to indicate that free radicals play a crucial role in the mechanism of the MG formation induced by various experimental conditions which are apparently various. These include ethanol-, chloramphenicol- and hydrazine-induced MG formation. Involvement of free radicals in the mechanism of MG formation is showed by the fact that MG formation is successfully suppressed by free radical scavengers such as alpha-tocopherol, coenzyme Q(10), and 4-OH-TEMPO. Detailed mechanisms and pathophysiological meanings of MG formation still remain to be investigated. However, a body of evidence strongly suggests that enormous changes in physicochemical and biochemical properties of the mitochondrial membranes during MG formation take place and these changes are favorable for membrane fusion. A recent report showed that continous exposure of cells with MG to free radicals induces apoptosis, finding which suggests that MG formation is an adaptative process to unfavorable environments at the level of intracellular organelles. Mitochondria try to decrease intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels by decreasing the consume of oxygen via MG formation. If mitochondria succeed to suppress intracellular ROS levels, MG return to normal both structurally and functionally, and they restore the ability to actively synthesize ATP. If cells are additionally exposed to excess amounts of free radicals, MG become swollen, membrane potential of mitochondria (DeltaPsim) decreases, cytochrome c is released from mitochondria, leading to activation of caspases and apoptosis is induced.