Liver failure induced by systemic inflammatory response (SIRS) is often associated with mitochondrial dysfunction but the mechanism linking SIRS and mitochondria-mediated liver failure is still a matter of discussion. Current hypotheses suggest that causative events could be a drop in ATP synthesis, opening of mitochondrial permeability transition pore, specific changes in mitochondrial morphology, impaired Ca(2+) uptake, generation of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (mtROS), turnover of mitochondria and imbalance in electron supply to the respiratory chain. The aim of this review is to critically analyze existing hypotheses, in order to highlight the most promising research lines helping to prevent liver failure induced by SIRS. Evaluation of the literature shows that there is no consistent support that impaired Ca(++) metabolism, electron transport chain function and ultrastructure of mitochondria substantially contribute to liver failure. Moreover, our analysis suggests that the drop in ATP levels has protective rather than a deleterious character. Recent data suggest that the most critical mitochondrial event occurring upon SIRS is the release of mtROS in cytoplasm, which can activate two specific intracellular signaling cascades. The first is the mtROS-mediated activation of NADPH-oxidase in liver macrophages and endothelial cells; the second is the acceleration of the expression of inflammatory genes in hepatocytes. The signaling action of mtROS is strictly controlled in mitochondria at three points, (i) at the site of ROS generation at complex I, (ii) the site of mtROS release in cytoplasm via permeability transition pore, and (iii) interaction with specific kinases in cytoplasm. The systems controlling mtROS-signaling include pro- and anti-inflammatory mediators, nitric oxide, Ca(2+) and NADPH-oxidase. Analysis of the literature suggests that further research should be focused on the impact of mtROS on organ failure induced by inflammation and simultaneously providing a new theoretical basis for a targeted therapy of overwhelmed inflammatory response.