Mitochondria are rather like battery packs within our cells. They convert the food we eat into a chemical form of energy that our cells use, called ATP. Our brains require a lot of energy, and healthy mitochondria will meet that high demand.
They are also influential in the control of the death of cells. When cells are old or unwell, they self-destruct – dying in a process called apoptosis – and are cleared away. Mitochondria are involved in activating apoptosis by signaling for the release of enzymes called caspases, which breakdown the cell.
When the mitochondria don’t work well (mitochondrial dysfunction) the cells do not have enough energy, and unused oxygen and ATP builds up in the cells causing damage. Mitochondrial dysfunction is linked to aging and neurodegeneration.
Evidence of mitochondrial dysfunction in the development of Parkinson’s has been building for decades, and researchers have been striving to find ways to restore mitochondrial function as a means of interrupting and stopping the disease progression.