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The role of mitochondria in immune-mediated disease: the dangers of a split personality

I honestly don't understand most of what is being talked about here but, to my uneducated brain, there seems to be things in the article that connect, or might connect, in with the issues that we see.

The presence of whole mitochondria in the extracellular space is remarkable, suggesting similarity to that which occurs with bacteremia during an infection. This situation has led to speculation that mitochondria are important drivers of sterile inflammation and conditions such as shock. In chronic autoimmune and inflammatory disease, mitochondrial products can act systemically as well as locally and contribute to the pathogenesis of conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, where mitochondrial DNA in the joint can promote synovitis.

Interesting ... mitochondria have a lot in common with bacteria, and I think the consensus is that they even evolved from bacteria. Theoretically, having mitochondria floating around in the blood stream does seem like the sort of thing which might trigger an immune reaction in the lack of an actual infection.
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Senior Member
It seems there is a trend developing even in such stodgy fields as arthritis research.

As I have mentioned, there is not just evidence of mitochondrial components outside cells, even whole mitochondria have been found. How an immune system can be expected to tell cell-free mitochondria from septicemia involving relatives like e. coli. I simply don't know. Despite years of teaching in medical schools there is simply no tag on organelles that marks them as "self" rather than "other". Remove them from their proper context, and immune response is likely.

The political implications are that a lot of money is already spent on research concerning arthritis or autoimmune diseases like MS compared to diseases so rare most M.D.s have never heard of them, or so confusing doctors don't believe they exist. Past results of narrowly targeted research on these subjects have not been impressive, which should motivate changes in direction.


Senior Member
Fascinating - thanks @AndyPR for bringing this to our attention.

We have already learned from Naviaux that mitochondria do far more that act as the 'batteries" of the cell. They are intimately involved with induction of the cell danger response which he hypothesis is a driver of chronic disease.

Now we learn that mitochondria or their products outside the cell are involved in induction of inflammation and so may be important in chronic inflammatory and auto-immune diseases.
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