Mitochondrial DNA alterations, including point mutations, deletions, inversions and copy number variations, have been widely reported in many age-related degenerative diseases and tumors. However, numerous studies investigating their pathogenic role in cancer have provided inconsistent evidence. Furthermore, biological impacts of mitochondrial DNA variants vary tremendously, depending on the proportion of mutant DNA molecules carried by the neoplastic cells (the so-called heteroplasmy). The recent discovery of inter-genomic crosstalk between nucleus and mitochondria has reinforced the role of mitochondrial DNA variants in perturbing this essential signaling pathway and thus indirectly targeting nuclear genes involved in tumorigenic and invasive phenotype. Therefore, mitochondrial dysfunction is currently considered a crucial hallmark of carcinogenesis as well as a promising target for anticancer therapy. This chapter describes the role of different types of mitochondrial DNA alterations by mainly considering the paradigmatic model of colorectal carcinogenesis and, in particular, it revisits the issue of whether mitochondrial mutations are causative cancer drivers or simply genuine passenger events. The advent of high-throughput next-generation sequencing techniques, as well as the development of genetic and pharmaceutical interventions for the treatment of mitochondrial dysfunction in cancer, are also discussed.
Part of the book: Mitochondrial DNA