Mitochondria possess a highly permeable outer membrane and an inner membrane that was originally thought to be relatively impermeable to ions to prevent dissipation of the electro-chemical gradient for protons. Although recent evidence has revealed a rich diversity of ion channels in both membranes, the purpose of these channels remains incompletely determined. Pores in the outer membrane are fundamental participants in apoptotic cell death, and this process may also involve permeability transition pores on the inner membrane. Novel functions are now being assigned to other ion channels of the inner membrane. Examples include protection against ischaemic injury by mitochondrial K(ATP) channels and the contribution of inner membrane anion channels to spontaneous mitochondrial oscillations in cardiac myocytes. The central role of mitochondria in both the normal function of the cell, and in its demise makes these channels prime targets for future research and drug development.
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