Mitochondrial diseases are a group of genetic disorders characterized by dysfunctional mitochondria. Within eukaryotic cells, mitochondria contain their own ribosomes, which synthesize small amounts of proteins, all of which are essential for the biogenesis of the oxidative phosphorylation system. The ribosome is an evolutionarily conserved macromolecular machine in nature both from a structural and functional point of view, universally responsible for the synthesis of proteins. Among the diseases afflicting humans, those of ribosomal origin - either cytoplasmic ribosomes (80S) or mitochondrial ribosomes (70S) - are relevant. These are inherited or acquired diseases most commonly caused by either ribosomal protein haploinsufficiency or defects in ribosome biogenesis. Here we review the scientific literature about the recent advances on changes in mitochondrial ribosomal structural and assembly proteins that are implicated in primary mitochondrial diseases and neurodegenerative disorders, and their possible connection with metalloid pollution and toxicity, with a focus on MRPL44, NAM9 (MNA6) and GEP3 (MTG3), whose lack or defect was associated with resistance to tellurite. Finally, we illustrate the suitability of yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae (S. cerevisiae) and the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) as model organisms for studying mitochondrial ribosome dysfunctions including those involved in human diseases.
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