The diversity and coexistence of extracellular mitochondria in circulation: A friend or foe of the immune system

A. Caicedo*, K. Zambrano, S. Sanon, J.L. Velez, M. Montalvo, F. Jara, S.A. Moscoso, P. Velez, A. Maldonado, G. Velarde

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Citations (Web of Science)


The diversity and coexistence of extracellular mitochondria may have a key role in the maintenance of health and progression of disease. Studies report that active mitochondria can be found physiologically outside of cells and circulating in the blood without inducing an inflammatory response. In addition, inactive or harmed mitochondria have been recognized as activators of immune cells, as they play an essential role in diseases characterized by the metabolic deregulation of these cells, such as sepsis. In this review we analyze key aspects regarding the existence of a diversity of extracellular mitochondria, their coexistence in body fluids and their effects on various immune cells. Additionally, we introduce models of how extracellular mitochondria could be interacting to maintain health and affect disease prognosis. Unwrapped mitochondria (freeMitos) can exist as viable, active, inactive or harmed organelles. Mitochondria can also be found wrapped in a membrane (wrappedMitos) that may differ depending on the cell of origin. Mitochondrial fragments can also be present in various body fluids as DAMPs, as mtDNA enclosed in vesicles or as circulating-cell-free mtDNA (ccf-mtDNA). Interestingly, the great quantity of evidence regarding the levels of ccf-mtDNA and their correlation with aging and disease allows for the identification of the diversity, but not type, of extracellular mitochondria. The existence of a diversity of mitochondria and their effects on immune cells opens a new concept in the biomedical field towards the understanding of health, the progression of disease and the development of mitochondria as therapeutic agents.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)270-284
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021


  • Extracellular mitochondria
  • Sepsis
  • Inflammation
  • Immunoregulation
  • Biomarker
  • Therapeutic agent
  • DNA

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