The mitochondrion is the subcellular organelle affected earliest during the development of alcoholic liver disease. As a result of chronic ethanol consumption mitochondrial protein synthesis is decreased significantly due to a depression in the functioning of the mitochondrial ribosome. This causes a significant decrease in the concentrations of the thirteen mitochondria gene products, all of which are components of the oxidative phosphorylation system. Consequently, there is a depression in the rate at which ATP is synthesized in hepatic mitochondria. In addition to this loss in function, hepatic mitochondria either acutely or chronically exposed to ethanol generate increased levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS). This elevation in ROS has been demonstrated in both isolated mitochondria and hepatocytes. The increase in mitochondrial ROS production accompanying acute ethanol exposure is due to mitochondrial associated reoxidation of NADH produced during ethanol and acetaldehyde metabolism. The elevation in ROS generation observed in mitochondria from chronic ethanol consumers is likely due to decreases in mitochondrial-derived electron transport components, which in turn results in higher levels of the semiquinone forms of flavin mononucleotide and ubiquinone. Both these semiquinones readily donate electrons to molecular oxygen to form superoxide.
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