When mitochondria are exposed to high Ca2+ concentrations, especially when accompanied by oxidative stress and adenine nucleotide depletion, they undergo massive swelling and become uncoupled. This occurs as a result of the opening of a non-specific pore in the inner mitochondrial membrane, known as the MPTP (mitochondrial permeability transition pore). If the pore remains open, cells cannot maintain their ATP levels and this will lead to cell death by necrosis. This article briefly reviews what is known of the molecular mechanism of the MPTP and its role in causing the necrotic cell death of the heart and brain that occurs during reperfusion after a long period of ischaemia. Such reperfusion injury is a major problem during cardiac surgery and in the treatment of coronary thrombosis and stroke. Prevention of MPTP opening either directly, using agents such as cyclosporin A, or indirectly by reducing oxidative stress or Ca2+ overload, provides a protective strategy against reperfusion injury. Furthermore, mice in which a component of the MPTP, CyP-D (cyclophilin D), has been knocked out are protected against heart and brain ischaemia/reperfusion. When cells experience a less severe insult, the MPTP may open transiently. The resulting mitochondrial swelling may be sufficient to cause release of cytochrome c and activation of the apoptotic pathway rather than necrosis. However, the CyP-D-knockout mice develop normally and show no protection against a range of apoptotic stimuli, suggesting that the MPTP does not play a role in most forms of apoptosis.

You do not currently have access to this content.