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BioMed Research International
Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 614014, 14 pages
Review Article

The Double-Edged Sword in Pathogenic Trypanosomatids: The Pivotal Role of Mitochondria in Oxidative Stress and Bioenergetics

Laboratório de Biologia Celular, Instituto Oswaldo Cruz, Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, Avenida Brasil 4365, 21040-360 Manguinhos, RJ, Brazil

Received 3 December 2013; Accepted 17 February 2014; Published 31 March 2014

Academic Editor: Wanderley de Souza

Copyright © 2014 Rubem Figueiredo Sadok Menna-Barreto and Solange Lisboa de Castro. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The pathogenic trypanosomatids Trypanosoma brucei, Trypanosoma cruzi, and Leishmania spp. are the causative agents of African trypanosomiasis, Chagas disease, and leishmaniasis, respectively. These diseases are considered to be neglected tropical illnesses that persist under conditions of poverty and are concentrated in impoverished populations in the developing world. Novel efficient and nontoxic drugs are urgently needed as substitutes for the currently limited chemotherapy. Trypanosomatids display a single mitochondrion with several peculiar features, such as the presence of different energetic and antioxidant enzymes and a specific arrangement of mitochondrial DNA (kinetoplast DNA). Due to mitochondrial differences between mammals and trypanosomatids, this organelle is an excellent candidate for drug intervention. Additionally, during trypanosomatids’ life cycle, the shape and functional plasticity of their single mitochondrion undergo profound alterations, reflecting adaptation to different environments. In an uncoupling situation, the organelle produces high amounts of reactive oxygen species. However, these species role in parasite biology is still controversial, involving parasite death, cell signalling, or even proliferation. Novel perspectives on trypanosomatid-targeting chemotherapy could be developed based on better comprehension of mitochondrial oxidative regulation processes.