Mitochondria as signaling organelles


Mitochondria have historically been viewed as a simple energy source for the cell. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that they also play a critical role in signaling for the cell. Our lab studies the many ways in which mitochondria, and metabolism in general, can affect changes in cell functions.

Lab News

Un-Miracle Drugs Could Help Tame the Pandemic

April 07, 2020

In this article, Dr. Navdeep Chandel discusses the potential of Metformin as a drug to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

November 18, 2019

Mitochondria, the organelle that powers most cells in the body, may be the canary in the coal mine for neurological disease, according to new findings published in the Journal of Cell Biology. Mitochondrial stress and dysfunction have long been suspected as an early step in diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease, but Navdeep Chandel and collaborators have uncovered a mechanism that may explain how. The study found that mitochondrial stress in neurons can cause an enzyme imbalance that contributes to neuronal dysfunction and death. Reversing this imbalance showed promise in cell models, sketching an outline of a future therapy.

March 29, 2019

Metabolic therapy is showing promise in robbing malignant cells of their primary energy source. In this Op-Ed, Navdeep Chandel discusses the current status and future directions of metabolic therapy in the clinic.

March 18, 2019

Mitochondria are most famous as sources of metabolic energy. But by splitting and combining, they can also release chemical signals to regulate cell activities, including the generation of neurons.

January 16, 2019

Northwestern Medicine scientists have demonstrated that a specific mitochondrial protein complex is essential to the immunosuppressive activity of regulatory T-cells, findings with potential significance for a wide variety of autoimmune diseases.

The study, published in Nature, demonstrated that the suppressive function of regulatory T (Treg) cells was impaired when they had been modified to lack mitochondria complex III, previously known as an essential component of mitochondrial function.

December 07, 2018

Clarivate Analytics has included Navdeep S. Chandel, PhD in their list of Highly Cited Researchers of 2018. This list represents scientists and social scientists who have demonstrated significant influence in the last decade. It recognizes world-class researchers selected for their exceptional research performance, demonstrated by production of multiple highly cited papers that rank in the top 1% by citations for field and year in Web of Science.

December 03, 2018

In this podcast episode of The Peter Attia Drive, Navdeep Chandel, PhD discusses the role of mitochondria and metabolism in health and disease. Nav also provides insights into the mitochondria as signaling organelles, antioxidants, and Metformin's multifaceted effects on human health, among many topics related to well-being.

May 05, 2018

In this podcast by Smart Drugs Smart, Navdeep Chandel, PhD shares his research into the subcellular world of mitochondria, ATP, the Krebs cycle - and how these esoteric interests translate into real-life lifespan and quality-of-life differences for humans.

October 23, 2017

Navdeep S. Chandel's lab has used an innovative gene editing technique to identify the genes that may lead to Parkinson's disease after exposure to paraquat, a commonly used herbicide. This study, which utilized the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool, serves as a proof-of-concept for using genetic screens to investigate the biology of oxidative stress.

The study was published in Nature Chemical Biology and the first author was Colleen Reczek, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Chandel's lab. Other authors include Chandel lab members Hyewon Kong and Inmaculada Martinez-Reyes, PhD.

June 12, 2017

New Northwestern Medicine published in Nature Cell Biology has shown that mitochondria, traditionally known for their role creating energy in cells, also play an important role in hematopoiesis, the body's process for creating new blood cells.

In this study, Navdeep S. Chandel's lab, including postdoctoral fellow Elena Anso, PhD, and graduate students Sam Weinberg and Lauren Diebold demonstrated that mitochondria control hematopoietic stem cell fat by preventing the generation of a metabolite called 2-hydroxyglutarate (2HG). The scientists showed that mice with stem cells deficient in mitochondrial function cannot generate blood cells due to elevated levels of 2HG, which causes histone and DNA hyper-methylation.

October 20, 2016

In this episode of The Tim Ferris Show, Navdeep Chandel, PhD, joined by Dr. David M. Sabatini, MD, PhD, and Dr. Peter Attia, MD, discusses metformin, rapamycin, and supplements for longevity with host Tim Ferris. In this conversation, they dig into the real science, what current evidence supports (and doesn't), and other important matters like how to staple properly, which fonts reasonable people use, and why Borat is a genius.

May 26, 2016

Navdeep Chandel, PhD, David W. Cugell Professor of Medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, has received the National Cancer Institute’s Outstanding Investigator Award.


The seven-year, $6.4 million grant supports leaders who have made significant contributions in cancer research and are pursuing areas with unusual potential to move the field forward. Chandel, whose work focuses on cellular organelles called mitochondria, will be exploring the mechanisms of mitochondrial metabolism that contribute to tumor formation and investigating related enzymes that may be targeted for future therapies.

April 07, 2016

Mammals adapt to low-oxygen environments by producing extra red blood cells to efficiently carry oxygen to tissues. Some athletes even try to take advantage of this phenomenon by training at high altitudes, where thinner air triggers an increase in red blood cell numbers to delivery more oxygen flow to muscles. But until now, scientists haven’t understood exactly how cells become aware of oxygen levels to begin this physiological reaction.

In a new study published in Cell Reports, Northwestern Medicine scientists have revealed that mitochondria are responsible for detecting changes in oxygen levels and can activate a chain of events to respond to inadequate supply, a condition called hypoxia.

January 04, 2016

Mitochondria – tiny, free-floating organelles inside cells – have long been defined by their ability to convert nutrients from food into energy. Likewise, many scientists have assumed that diseases linked mitochondrial dysfunction – including neurodegeneration, cancer and diabetes – occur when mitochondria can’t properly supply energy, which they do by making a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

Now, a new Northwestern Medicine study led by Navdeep Chandel, PhD, challenges the common understanding that energy production is mitochondria’s most important function by deciphering the organelles’ other responsibilities. The findings were published in Molecular Cell. Postdoctoral fellow Inma Reyes, PhD, was the paper’s first author.

August 19, 2014

Many important medical discoveries of the first half of the 20th century involved metabolism, but by the 1960s scientists had shifted their attention to understanding how genetic mutations cause disease. They thought that illnesses like cancer caused metabolic changes, but didn’t think that metabolism caused disease. Then in 1996, a group of scientists reported that mitochondria play a signaling role in conditions leading to cell death and, practically overnight, the organelle best known as the cellular power plant, regained the spotlight...

July 24, 2014

Navdeep S. Chandel, PhD, professor in Medicine-Pulmonary and Cell and Molecular Biology, and collaborators showed that metformin inhibits the function of mitochondrial complex I in human cancer cells, which reduces tumor burden. Mitochondrial complex I is a compound central to energy production in the cell...

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© 2014 Navdeep Chandel.

Northwestern University

Lurie Cancer Center

Feinberg School of Medicine