Aging is the progressive decline in organismal function that leads to an increased risk of multiple diseases and mortality. The molecular basis of this decline is unknown. Using quantitative PCR for mitochondrial mRNA from multiple tissues from the same animals, we found that the rate of change in mouse mitochondrial expression is tissue-specific, with cardiac expression declining early (8-10 months), adipose expression declining late (25-30 months), and no change in kidney or skin. In cardiac tissue, mitochondria-derived mRNA levels declined more slowly than nuclear encoded mRNAs, suggesting a potential dysregulation. These changes were independent of alteration in mitochondrial number, as measured by quantitative PCR of mitochondrial DNA and citrate synthase activity. We found no change in the variability between mitochondrial mRNA levels with age, suggesting that the changes are not due to random dysregulation at the level of gene expression. Caloric restriction (CR), a lifespan-extending intervention proposed to act through mitochondrial biogenesis, delayed the decline in both cardiac and adipose mitochondrial mRNA levels of F344 rats. CR caused an increase in citrate synthase activity but did not alter mitochondrial DNA content, indicating increased translation or reduced turnover of mitochondrial proteins. These results demonstrate that mitochondrial gene expression changes with age are not coupled to mitochondrial number, are likely to be regulated, and are governed by tissue-specific processes. These findings indicate that aging is neither a programmed organism-wide change orchestrated in a top-down fashion nor a product of random dysregulation of gene expression but that tissue-specific factors may independently control aging in different organ compartments.