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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 2015, Article ID 527209, 13 pages
Review Article

Natural Compounds Modulating Mitochondrial Functions

1Department of Surgery, Medicine, Dentistry and Morphological Sciences, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Via G. Campi 287, 41125 Modena, Italy
2Department of Life Sciences, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Via G. Campi 287, 41125 Modena, Italy

Received 11 May 2015; Accepted 11 June 2015

Academic Editor: Muriel Cuendet

Copyright © 2015 Lara Gibellini et al. 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.


Mitochondria are organelles responsible for several crucial cell functions, including respiration, oxidative phosphorylation, and regulation of apoptosis; they are also the main intracellular source of reactive oxygen species (ROS). In the last years, a particular interest has been devoted to studying the effects on mitochondria of natural compounds of vegetal origin, quercetin (Qu), resveratrol (RSV), and curcumin (Cur) being the most studied molecules. All these natural compounds modulate mitochondrial functions by inhibiting organelle enzymes or metabolic pathways (such as oxidative phosphorylation), by altering the production of mitochondrial ROS and by modulating the activity of transcription factors which regulate the expression of mitochondrial proteins. While Qu displays both pro- and antioxidant activities, RSV and Cur are strong antioxidant, as they efficiently scavenge mitochondrial ROS and upregulate antioxidant transcriptional programmes in cells. All the three compounds display a proapoptotic activity, mediated by the capability to directly cause the release of cytochrome c from mitochondria or indirectly by upregulating the expression of proapoptotic proteins of Bcl-2 family and downregulating antiapoptotic proteins. Interestingly, these effects are particularly evident on proliferating cancer cells and can have important therapeutic implications.