The mitochondrial permeability transition in toxic, hypoxic and reperfusion injury

John J. Lemasters, Anna Liisa Nieminen, Ting Qian, Lawrence C. Trost, Brian Herman

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194 Scopus citations


Opening of a non-specific, high conductance permeability transition pore of megachannel in the inner mitochondrial membrane causes onset of the mitochondrial permeability transition, which is characterized by mitochondrial swelling, depolarization and uncoupling. Inducers of the permeability transition include Ca2+, oxidant stress and a permissive pH greater than 7.0. Blockers include cyclosporin A, trifluoperazine and pH < 7. Using laser scanning confocal microscopy, we developed techniques to visualize onset of the mitochondrial permeability transition in situ in living cells. In untreated cells, the permeability transition pore is continuously closed and does not 'flicker' open. By contrast, the pore opens in liver and heart cells after exposure to oxidant chemicals, calcium ionophore, hypoxia and ischemia/reperfusion, causing mitochondrial uncoupling and aggravation of ATP depletion. In injury to hepatocytes from tert-butylhydroperoxide, an analog of lipid hydroperoxides generated during oxidative stress, onset of the mitochondrial permeability transition is preceded by oxidation of mitochondrial pyridine nucleotides, mitochondrial generation of oxygen radicals and an increase of mitochondrial Ca2+, all inducers of the mitochondrial permeability transition. In ischemia, the acidosis of anaerobic metabolism protects strongly against cell death. During reperfusion, recovery of pH to normal levels is a stress that actually precipitates cell killing. Onset of the mitochondrial permeability transition may be responsible, in part, for this pH-dependent injury, or pH paradox. The mitochondrial permeability transition may also be responsible for a variety of pathological phenomena. In particular, the mitochondrial permeability transition may underlie Reye's syndrome and Reye's-like drug toxicities. In conclusion, multiple mechanisms contribute to cell injury after hypoxia, ischemia/reperfusion and toxic chemicals, but a common final pathway leading to acute cellular necrosis may be ATP depletion after mitochondrial failure. One important mechanism causing mitochondrial failure is the mitochondrial permeability transition, which both uncouples oxidative phosphorylation and accelerates ATP hydrolysis. Interventions that block this pH-dependent phenomenon protect against onset of cell death.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-165
Number of pages7
JournalMolecular and cellular biochemistry
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 1997

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported, in part, by Grants AG07218, DK37034, HL48769 and AG13318 from the National Institutes of Health and Grant N00014-96-1-0184 from the Office of Naval Research.


  • A23187; tert-butylhydroperoxide
  • Confocal microscopy
  • Cyclosporin A
  • Mitochondrial permeability transition
  • Reperfusion injury
  • Reye's syndrome
  • pH paradox


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