Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Mitochondrial disease


Current strategies for preventing the transmission of mitochondrial disease to offspring include techniques known as mitochondrial replacement and mitochondrial gene editing. This technology has already been applied in humans on several occasions, and the first baby with donor mitochondria has already been born. However, these techniques raise several ethical concerns, among which is the fact that they entail genetic modification of the germline, as well as presenting safety problems in relation to a possible mismatch between the nuclear and mitochondrial DNA, maternal mitochondrial DNA carryover, and the “reversion” phenomenon. In this essay, we discuss these questions, highlighting the advantages of some techniques over others from an ethical point of view, and we conclude that none of these are ready to be safely applied in humans.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cell, Bacteria, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Ethics, Mitochondrial disease


Mutations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) are maternally inherited and can cause fatal or debilitating mitochondrial disorders. The severity of clinical symptoms is often associated with the level of mtDNA mutation load or degree of heteroplasmy. Current clinical options to prevent transmission of mtDNA mutations to offspring are limited. Experimental spindle transfer in metaphase II oocytes, also called mitochondrial replacement therapy, is a novel technology for preventing mtDNA transmission from oocytes to pre-implantation embryos. Here, we report a female carrier of Leigh syndrome (mtDNA mutation 8993T > G), with a long history of multiple undiagnosed pregnancy losses and deaths of offspring as a result of this disease, who underwent IVF after reconstitution of her oocytes by spindle transfer into the cytoplasm of enucleated donor oocytes. A male euploid blastocyst wasobtained from the reconstituted oocytes, which had only a 5.7% mtDNA mutation load. Transfer of the embryo resulted in a pregnancy with delivery of a boy with neonatal mtDNA mutation load of 2.36-9.23% in his tested tissues. The boy is currently healthy at 7 months of age, although long-term follow-up of the child’s longitudinal development remains crucial.

Concepts: DNA, Pregnancy, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Meiosis, Zygote, Human mitochondrial genetics, Mitochondrial disease


Human mitochondrial DNA polymerase γ (pol γ) is solely responsible for the replication and repair of the mitochondrial genome. Unsurprisingly, alterations in pol γ activity have been associated with mitochondrial diseases such as Alpers syndrome and progressive external ophthalmoplegia. Thus far, predicting the severity of mitochondrial disease based the magnitude of deficiency in pol γ activity has been difficult. In order to understand the relationship between disease severity in patients and enzymatic defects in vitro, we characterized the molecular mechanisms of four pol γ mutations, A957P, A957S, R1096C, and R1096H, which have been found in patients suffering from aggressive Alpers syndrome to mild progressive external ophthalmoplegia. The A957P mutant showed the most striking deficiencies in the incorporation efficiency of a correct deoxyribonucleotide triphosphate (dNTP) relative to wild type pol γ, with less, but still significant incorporation efficiency defects seen in R1096H and R1096C, and only a small decrease in incorporation efficiency observed for A957S. Importantly, this trend matches the disease severity observed in patients very well (approximated as A957P > R1096C ≥ R1096H > A957S, from most severe disease to least severe). Further, the A957P mutation conferred a two orders of magnitude loss of fidelity relative to wild type pol γ, indicating that a buildup of mitochondrial genomic mutations may contribute to the death in infancy seen with these patients. We conclude that characterizing the unique molecular mechanisms of pol γ deficiency for physiologically important mutant enzymes is important for understanding mitochondrial disease and for predicting disease severity.

Concepts: DNA, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Neurology, DNA polymerase, Human mitochondrial genetics, Mitochondrial disease, Mitochondrial diseases


No association between mitochondrial disease and pancreatitis has yet been established, although diabetes mellitus and diseases caused by exocrine insufficiency, such as Pearson syndrome, are the commonest pancreatic complications of mitochondrial diseases. Here, we report 2 cases of mitochondrial disease complicated by pancreatitis as an unusual pancreatic exocrine manifestation. One patient was a 10-year-old girl with mild retardation of psychomotor development who had experienced recurrent pancreatitis since the age of 4years. Chronic progressive external ophthalmoplegia (CPEO) due to m.8344A>G mutation was diagnosed when the patient was 10years old. The other patient was a 28-year-old woman who was diagnosed with mitochondrial myopathy, encephalopathy, lactic acidosis, and stroke-like episodes (MELAS) due to m.3243A>G mutation at 10years of age. She had experienced regular recurrent vomiting since the age of 16 and suffered an episode of critical pancreatitis at 23years. In both cases, no possible etiological, morphological, or genetic factors for pancreatitis were identified, including anomalous pancreaticobiliary duct. A combination therapy of the standard treatment for chronic pancreatitis and supportive therapy for mitochondrial energy production may be beneficial to prevent the recurrence of acute pancreatitis complicating mitochondrial diseases. The pathophysiological mechanism of pancreatitis in mitochondrial disease has not been adequately established; however, our observations suggest that pancreatitis should be included in the list of pancreatic complications of mitochondrial disease.

Concepts: Medicine, Medical terms, Diabetes mellitus, Mitochondrion, Neurology, Pancreatitis, Mitochondrial disease, Mitochondrial diseases


Mitochondrial diseases represent a genetically and clinically heterogeneous group of inherited metabolic disorders, often resulting in poor functional and survival outcomes for the patient and considerable psychosocial distress for the caregiver. The systematic review undertaken in the present paper emphasizes the critical role of the caregiver in the management of a child with mitochondrial disease, with focus on the burden of mitochondrial disease on the caregiver, the family, and society.

Concepts: Medicine, Genetic disorder, Metabolism, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Poverty, Sociology, Mitochondrial disease


Over the last 15 years, some 16 open and controlled clinical trials for potential treatments of mitochondrial diseases have been reported or are in progress, and are summarized and reviewed herein. These include trials of administering dichloroacetate (an activator of pyruvate dehydrogenase complex), arginine or citrulline (precursors of nitric oxide), coenzyme Q(10) (CoQ(10); part of the electron transport chain and an antioxidant), idebenone (a synthetic analogue of CoQ(10)), EPI-743 (a novel oral potent 2-electron redox cycling agent), creatine (a precursor of phosphocreatine), combined administration (of creatine, α-lipoate, and CoQ(10)), and exercise training (to increase muscle mitochondria). These trials have included patients with various mitochondrial disorders, a selected subcategory of mitochondrial disorders, or specific mitochondrial disorders (Leber hereditary optic neuropathy or mitochondrial encephalopathy, lactic acidosis, and stroke-like episodes). The trial designs have varied from open-label/uncontrolled, open-label/controlled, or double-blind/placebo-controlled/crossover. Primary outcomes have ranged from single, clinically-relevant scores to multiple measures. Eight of these trials have been well-controlled, completed trials. Of these only 1 (treatment with creatine) showed a significant change in primary outcomes, but this was not reproduced in 2 subsequent trials with creatine with different patients. One trial (idebenone treatment of Leber hereditary optic neuropathy) did not show significant improvement in the primary outcome, but there was significant improvement in a subgroup of patients. Despite the paucity of benefits found so far, well-controlled clinical trials are essential building blocks in the continuing search for more effective treatment of mitochondrial disease, and current trials based on information gained from these prior experiences are in progress. Because of difficulties in recruiting sufficient mitochondrial disease patients and the relatively large expense of conducting such trials, advantageous strategies include crossover designs (where possible), multicenter collaboration, and the selection of very few, clinically relevant, primary outcomes.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Metabolism, Adenosine triphosphate, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Cellular respiration, Mitochondrial disease, Mitochondrial diseases


Abstract We have sequenced and characterized the complete mitochondrial DNA of an economically and ecologically important Pacific abalone, Haliotis discus hannai (Haliotidae, Gastropoda). The mitogenome of the Pacific abalone is 16,886 nt total length with a 39.6% G + C composition. Thirty-seven genes were identified including 13 protein-coding, 2 rRNA and 22 tRNA genes. We compared the mitogenome of the Pacific abalone to a putative relative species, H. rubra.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, RNA, Mitochondrial disease, Abalone, Gastropoda


Mutations in mtDNA lead to muscular and neurological diseases and are linked to aging. The most frequent aberrancy is the “common deletion” that involves a 4,977-bp region flanked by 13-bp repeats. To investigate the basis of this deletion, we developed a single-molecule mtDNA combing method. The analysis of replicating mtDNA molecules provided in vivo evidence in support of the asymmetric mode of replication. Furthermore, we observed frequent fork stalling at the junction of the common deletion, suggesting that impaired replication triggers the formation of this toxic lesion. In parallel experiments, we employed mito-TALENs to induce breaks in distinct loci of the mitochondrial genome and found that breaks adjacent to the 5' repeat trigger the common deletion. Interestingly, this process was mediated by the mitochondrial replisome independent of canonical DSB repair. Altogether, our data underscore a unique replication-dependent repair pathway that leads to the mitochondrial common deletion.

Concepts: DNA, Scientific method, Genetics, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, DNA polymerase, Human mitochondrial genetics, Mitochondrial disease


This study presents the first detailed analysis of the mitochondrial DNA diversity of least cisco Coregonus sardinella in Alaska using a 678 bp segment of the control region (D-loop) of the mitochondrial genome. Findings suggest that the history of C. sardinella in Alaska differs from that of other species of Coregonus present in the state and surrounding regions. The examined populations of C. sardinella are genetically diverse across Alaska. Sixty-eight distinct mitochondrial haplotypes were identified among 305 individuals sampled from nine locations. The haplotype minimum spanning network and phylogeny showed a modest level of geographic segregation among haplotypes, suggesting high levels of on-going or recent connectivity among distant populations. Observed ΦST values and the results of homogeneity and AMOVAs indicate incipient genetic differentiation between aggregations in three broad regional groups. Sites north of the Brooks Range formed one group, sites in the Yukon and Selawik Rivers formed a second group and sites south of the Yukon drainage formed the third group. Overall, the sequence data showed that a large proportion of mtDNA genetic variation in C. sardinella is shared across Alaska, but this variation is not homogeneously distributed across all regions and for all haplotype groups.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Evolution, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Population genetics, Mitochondrial disease


Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations are maternally inherited and are associated with a broad range of debilitating and fatal diseases. Reproductive technologies designed to uncouple the inheritance of mtDNA from nuclear DNA may enable affected women to have a genetically related child with a greatly reduced risk of mtDNA disease. Here we report the first preclinical studies on pronuclear transplantation (PNT). Surprisingly, techniques used in proof-of-concept studies involving abnormally fertilized human zygotes were not well tolerated by normally fertilized zygotes. We have therefore developed an alternative approach based on transplanting pronuclei shortly after completion of meiosis rather than shortly before the first mitotic division. This promotes efficient development to the blastocyst stage with no detectable effect on aneuploidy or gene expression. After optimization, mtDNA carryover was reduced to <2% in the majority (79%) of PNT blastocysts. The importance of reducing carryover to the lowest possible levels is highlighted by a progressive increase in heteroplasmy in a stem cell line derived from a PNT blastocyst with 4% mtDNA carryover. We conclude that PNT has the potential to reduce the risk of mtDNA disease, but it may not guarantee prevention.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Cell, Cancer, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Mitochondrial disease