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Concept: Mitochondrial diseases


BACKGROUND: POLG1 mutations have been associated to MELAS-like phenotypes. However given several clinical differences it is unknown whether POLG1 mutations are possible causes of MELAS or give raise to a distinct clinical and genetic entity, named POLG1-associated encephalopathy. CASE PRESENTATION: We describe a 74 years old man carrying POLG1 mutations presenting with strokes, myopathy and ragged red fibers with some atypical aspects for MELAS such as late onset, lack of cerebral calcification and presence of frontal and occipital MRI lesions better consistent with the POLG associated-encephalopathy spectrum. CONCLUSION: The lack of available data hampers a definite diagnosis in our patient as well as makes it difficult to compare MELAS, which is a clearly defined clinical syndrome, with POLG1-associated encephalopathy, which is so far a purely molecularly defined syndrome with a quite heterogeneous clinical picture. However, the present report contributes to expand the phenotypic spectrum of POLG1 mutations underlining the importance of searching POLG1 mutations in patients with mitochondrial signs and MELAS like phenotypes but negative for common mtDNA mutations.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Natural selection, Evolution, Mitochondrial DNA, Mitochondrial diseases, MT-TH, MT-TL1


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


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


To investigate the spectrum of common mitochondrial mutations in Tunisia during the years of 2002-2012, 226 patients with mitochondrial disorders were clinically diagnosed with hearing loss, Leigh syndrome (LS), diabetes, cardiomyopathy, Kearns-Sayre syndrome (KSS), Pearson syndrome (PS), myopathy, mitochondrial myopathy, encephalopathy, lactic acidosis, and stroke-like episodes syndrome (MELAS) and Wolfram syndrome. Restriction fragment length polymorphism (PCR-RFLP), radioactive PCR, single specific primer-PCR (SSP-PCR) analysis and PCR-sequencing methods were used to identify the mutations. Two cases with m.1555A>G mutation and two families with the novel 12S rRNA m.735A>G transition were detected in patients with hearing loss. Three cases with m.8993T>G mutation, two patients with the novel m.5523T>G and m.5559A>G mutations in the tRNA(Trp) gene, and two individuals with the undescribed m.9478T>C mutation in the cytochrome c oxidase subunit III (COXIII) gene were found with LS. In addition, one case with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and deafness presented the ND1 m.3395A>G mutation and the tRNA(Ile) m.4316A>G variation. Besides, multiple mitochondrial deletions were detected in patients with KSS, PS, and Wolfram syndrome. The m.14709T>C mutation in the tRNA(Glu) was reported in four maternally inherited diabetes and deafness patients and a novel tRNA(Val) m.1640A>G mutation was detected in a MELAS patient.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Mutation, Mitochondrion, DNA repair, Point mutation, Mitochondrial diseases, Cytochrome c oxidase subunit III


Intravenous (IV) arginine has been reported to ameliorate acute metabolic stroke symptoms in adult patients with Mitochondrial Encephalopathy with Lactic Acidosis and Stroke-like Episodes (MELAS) syndrome, where its therapeutic benefit is postulated to result from arginine acting as a nitric oxide donor to reverse vasospasm. Further, reduced plasma arginine may occur in mitochondrial disease since the biosynthesis of arginine’s precursor, citrulline, requires ATP. Metabolic strokes occur across a wide array of primary mitochondrial diseases having diverse molecular etiologies that are likely to share similar pathophysiologic mechanisms. Therefore, IV arginine has been increasingly used for the acute clinical treatment of metabolic stroke across a broad mitochondrial disease population.

Concepts: Medicine, Metabolism, Adenosine triphosphate, Mitochondrion, Nitrogen, Nitric oxide, Arginine, Mitochondrial diseases


Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON) is currently estimated as the most frequent mitochondrial disease (1 in 27,000-45,000). Its molecular pathogenesis and natural history is now fairly well understood. LHON also is the first mitochondrial disease for which a treatment has been approved (idebenone-Raxone, Santhera Pharmaceuticals) by the European Medicine Agency, under exceptional circumstances because of the rarity and severity of the disease. However, what remains unclear includes the optimal target population, timing, dose, and frequency of administration of idebenone in LHON due to lack of accepted definitions, criteria, and general guidelines for the clinical management of LHON. To address these issues, a consensus conference with a panel of experts from Europe and North America was held in Milan, Italy, in 2016. The intent was to provide expert consensus statements for the clinical and therapeutic management of LHON based on the currently available evidence. We report the conclusions of this conference, providing the guidelines for clinical and therapeutic management of LHON.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Medicine, Europe, Ophthalmology, Genetic disorders, Expert, Mitochondrial diseases, Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy


Mitochondrial encephalomyopathy, lactic acidosis, and stroke-like episodes (MELAS) syndrome(1) is one of the most frequently inherited mitochondrial disorders. MELAS syndrome is a systemic disease with multiple organ involvement.(2) The most common mutation in MELAS is the m.3243A>G mutation in the MT-TL1 gene.(2).

Concepts: Diseases and disorders, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Genetic disorders, Mitochondrial disease, Mitochondrial diseases, MT-TL1, Mitochondrial encephalomyopathy, lactic acidosis, and stroke-like episodes


Mitochondrial myopathies (MM) are a heterogeneous group of inherited conditions resulting from a primary defect in the mitochondrial respiratory chain with consecutively impaired cellular energy metabolism. Small sized studies using mainly electrocardiography (ECG) and echocardiography have revealed cardiac abnormalities ranging from conduction abnormalities and arrhythmias to hypertrophic or dilated cardiomyopathy in these patients. Recently, characteristic patterns of cardiac involvement were documented by cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) in patients with chronic progressive external ophthalmoplegia (CPEO)/Kearns-Sayre syndrome (KSS) and with mitochondrial encephalopathy with lactic acidosis and stroke-like episodes (MELAS). The present study aimed to characterize the prevalence and pattern of cardiac abnormalities and to test the additional diagnostic value of CMR in this patient population. The hypothesis that different neuromuscular MM syndromes present with different cardiac disease phenotypes was evaluated.

Concepts: Metabolism, Adenosine triphosphate, Mitochondrion, Heart, Oxidative phosphorylation, Cellular respiration, Electron transport chain, Mitochondrial diseases


Mitochondrial diseases are associated with a wide variety of clinical symptoms and variable degrees of severity. Patients with such diseases generally have a poor prognosis and often an early fatal disease outcome. With an incidence of 1 in 5000 live births and no curative treatments available, relevant animal models to evaluate new therapeutic regimes for mitochondrial diseases are urgently needed. By knocking down ND-18, the uniqueDrosophilaortholog of NDUFS4, an accessory subunit of the NADH:ubiquinone oxidoreductase (Complex I), we developed and characterized several dNDUFS4 models that recapitulate key features of mitochondrial disease. Like in humans, the dNDUFS4 KD flies display severe feeding difficulties, an aspect of mitochondrial disorders that has so far been largely ignored in animal models. The impact of this finding, and an approach to overcome it, will be discussed in the context of interpreting disease model characterization and intervention studies.This article has an associated First Person interview with the first author of the paper.

Concepts: Medicine, Epidemiology, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Symptom, Mitochondrial disease, Mitochondrial diseases