Magnificent mitochondria

Thomas Ryan and David Tumbarello, two British researchers, published a very interesting two-page review article due to be published in September 2021, but made available early.

It seems that mitochondria, the batteries in our cells, aren’t merely being driven by other, more high-status, parts of the cell. It looks like the mitochondria themselves might be in the driver’s seat, at least for some aspects of their activity. We should take more notice of them.

If a mitochondrion gets miserable, it slows down its battery work, so that its cell then gets miserable and can’t do what it was meant to do. That cell is seriously sick, and it doesn’t help when bits of the mitochondrial structure start to break down. The cell has a garbage collection system to manage that, and it is very very complex, as the graphic from the article shows. A whole bunch of molecular entities are busy, including Parkin, PINK1, Tollip and STING, to name but a few.

In the mix of all this activity, the body’s immune system has a role as well, and it modulates the way that the cell responds as mitochondrial misery ramps up.

When the mitochondrion reaches the point of maximal misery, an inbuilt switch trips specific cell proteins, especially Parkin, to change roles. Normally Parkin protects the cell, and does what it can to keep the cell alive and functioning. But when the cell gets beyond their ability to help, Parkin and his mates begin the process of killing the cell. This process, where the body kills off its own cells, is called apoptosis.

Don’t get too worried about apoptosis; it’s a really good thing because that’s the mechanism for the body to get rid of cells that could be pre-cancerous or harmful. The other good thing is that nothing gets wasted. All the various bits and pieces in the executed cell are sorted, soothed and re-used, so they will eventually reappear and operate in another cell. The body is the ultimate recycler.

Ryan and Tumbarello wonder whether the threshold, the point of maximum mitochondrial misery can be changed, and if so, this has major implications for Parkinson’s disease. A fascinating concept.

We do know that photobiomodulation improves mitochondrial function and cell health and activity. It does this by protecting the mitochondria and stop them descending into the misery described above. No side-effects. You just need to shine lights on your head daily, preferably twice daily.


Ryan, Thomas A and Tumbarello, David A (2020) A central role for mitochondrial-derived vesicles in the innate immune response: implications for Parkinson’s Disease. Neural Regeneration, Vol 16, No 9, p1779-1780, 2021.;year=2021;volume=16;issue=9;spage=1779;epage=1780;aulast=Ryan;type=3.

The graphic is Figure 1 on page 2 of Ryan and Trumbarello’s article.

Author: RedlightsontheBrain

Redlightsonthebrain is written by Catherine Hamilton, a retired doctor on behalf of Light Ahead Inc, a Tasmanian-based not-for-profit organisation. Light Ahead Inc aims to help people to learn about neurogenerative diseases and the practical, safe and scientifically-based things that may be able to help. Part of this is to provide low-cost access to red light devices, hence the DIY instructions on this blog. All sales of the Coronet red light device support the work of Light Ahead Inc.

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