Mitochondria are recognized as the producers of the majority of energy cells need for their normal activity. After the initial comprehension of how mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation produces energy, mitochondrial research was not a priority for most cell biologists until novel mitochondrial functions were identified. In fact, it is now known that mitochondria are not only involved in cell calcium homeostasis, intermediate metabolism and free radical generation but are also a crucial crossroad for several cell death pathways. The notion that several clinically used drugs and other xenobiotics induce organ degeneration through damaging mitochondrial bioenergetics led to the use of the organelle as an effective and reliable bio-sensor to predict drug safety. Classic methods used to test the toxicity of a wide range of compounds on isolated mitochondrial fractions were later replaced by novel high-throughput methods to investigate the safety of a very large number of new molecules. Without surprise, the assessment of “mitochondrial safety” for new discovered molecules is of clear interest for pharmaceutical companies which can now select compounds lacking mitochondrial toxicity to undergo further trials, thus avoiding the possibility of later human toxicity due to mitochondrial liabilities.
Keywords: Mitochondria, drug safety, toxicity, high-throughput methods, biosensor