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Concept: Paternal mtDNA transmission


Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON) is associated with mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) ND mutations that are mostly homoplasmic. However, these mutations are not sufficient to explain the peculiar features of penetrance and the tissue-specific expression of the disease and are believed to be causative in association with unknown environmental or other genetic factors. Discerning between clear-cut pathogenetic variants, such as those that appear to be heteroplasmic, and less penetrant variants, such as the homoplasmic, remains a challenging issue that we have addressed here using next-generation sequencing approach. We set up a protocol to quantify MTND5 heteroplasmy levels in a family in which the proband manifests a LHON phenotype. Furthermore, to study this mtDNA haplotype, we applied the cybridization protocol. The results demonstrate that the mutations are mostly homoplasmic, whereas the suspected heteroplasmic feature of the observed mutations is due to the co-amplification of Nuclear mitochondrial Sequences.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Evolution, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy, Paternal mtDNA transmission, Heteroplasmy


The correct detection of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) heteroplasmy by automated sequencing presents methodological constraints. The main goals of this study are to investigate the effect of sense and distance of primers in heteroplasmy detection and to test if there are differences in the accurate determination of heteroplasmy involving transitions or transversions. A gradient of the heteroplasmy levels was generated for mtDNA positions 9477 (transition G/A) and 15,452 (transversion C/A). Amplification and subsequent sequencing with forward and reverse primers, situated at 550 and 150 bp from the heteroplasmic positions, were performed. Our data provide evidence that there is a significant difference between the use of forward and reverse primers. The forward primer is the primer that seems to give a better approximation to the real proportion of the variants. No significant differences were found concerning the distance at which the sequencing primers were placed neither between the analysis of transitions and transversions. The data collected in this study are a starting point that allows to glimpse the importance of the sequencing primers in the accurate detection of point heteroplasmy, providing additional insight into the overall automated sequencing strategy.

Concepts: DNA, Mutation, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Statistical significance, DNA polymerase, Paternal mtDNA transmission, Heteroplasmy


Determining the levels of human mitochondrial heteroplasmy is of utmost importance in several fields. In spite of this, there are currently few published works that have focused on this issue. In order to increase the knowledge of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) heteroplasmy, the main goal of this work is to investigate the frequency and the mutational spectrum of heteroplasmy in the human mtDNA genome. To address this, a set of nine primer pairs designed to avoid co-amplification of nuclear DNA (nDNA) sequences of mitochondrial origin (NUMTs) was used to amplify the mitochondrial genome in 101 individuals. The analysed individuals represent a collection with a balanced representation of genders and mtDNA haplogroup distribution, similar to that of a Western European population. The results show that the frequency of heteroplasmic individuals exceeds 61%. The frequency of point heteroplasmy is 28.7%, with a widespread distribution across the entire mtDNA. In addition, an excess of transitions in heteroplasmy were detected, suggesting that genetic drift and/or selection may be acting to reduce its frequency at population level. In fact, heteroplasmy at highly stable positions might have a greater impact on the viability of mitochondria, suggesting that purifying selection must be operating to prevent their fixation within individuals. This study analyses the frequency of heteroplasmy in a healthy population, carrying out an evolutionary analysis of the detected changes and providing a new perspective with important consequences in medical, evolutionary and forensic fields.

Concepts: DNA, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Population genetics, Human mitochondrial genetics, Mitochondrial disease, Nuclear DNA, Paternal mtDNA transmission


The manifestation of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) diseases depends on the frequency of heteroplasmy (the presence of several alleles in an individual), yet its transmission across generations cannot be readily predicted owing to a lack of data on the size of the mtDNA bottleneck during oogenesis. For deleterious heteroplasmies, a severe bottleneck may abruptly transform a benign (low) frequency in a mother into a disease-causing (high) frequency in her child. Here we present a high-resolution study of heteroplasmy transmission conducted on blood and buccal mtDNA of 39 healthy mother-child pairs of European ancestry (a total of 156 samples, each sequenced at ∼20,000× per site). On average, each individual carried one heteroplasmy, and one in eight individuals carried a disease-associated heteroplasmy, with minor allele frequency ≥1%. We observed frequent drastic heteroplasmy frequency shifts between generations and estimated the effective size of the germ-line mtDNA bottleneck at only ∼30-35 (interquartile range from 9 to 141). Accounting for heteroplasmies, we estimated the mtDNA germ-line mutation rate at 1.3 × 10(-8) (interquartile range from 4.2 × 10(-9) to 4.1 × 10(-8)) mutations per site per year, an order of magnitude higher than for nuclear DNA. Notably, we found a positive association between the number of heteroplasmies in a child and maternal age at fertilization, likely attributable to oocyte aging. This study also took advantage of droplet digital PCR (ddPCR) to validate heteroplasmies and confirm a de novo mutation. Our results can be used to predict the transmission of disease-causing mtDNA variants and illuminate evolutionary dynamics of the mitochondrial genome.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Mutation, Evolution, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Human mitochondrial genetics, Paternal mtDNA transmission


The genetic integrity of iPSCs is an important consideration for therapeutic application. In this study, we examine the accumulation of somatic mitochondrial genome (mtDNA) mutations in skin fibroblasts, blood, and iPSCs derived from young and elderly subjects (24-72 years). We found that pooled skin and blood mtDNA contained low heteroplasmic point mutations, but a panel of ten individual iPSC lines from each tissue or clonally expanded fibroblasts carried an elevated load of heteroplasmic or homoplasmic mutations, suggesting that somatic mutations randomly arise within individual cells but are not detectable in whole tissues. The frequency of mtDNA defects in iPSCs increased with age, and many mutations were non-synonymous or resided in RNA coding genes and thus can lead to respiratory defects. Our results highlight a need to monitor mtDNA mutations in iPSCs, especially those generated from older patients, and to examine the metabolic status of iPSCs destined for clinical applications.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Human, Mutation, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Paternal mtDNA transmission


Maternal inheritance of mtDNA is the rule in most animals, but the reasons for this pattern remain unclear. To investigate the consequence of overriding uniparental inheritance, we generated mice containing an admixture (heteroplasmy) of NZB and 129S6 mtDNAs in the presence of a congenic C57BL/6J nuclear background. Analysis of the segregation of the two mtDNAs across subsequent maternal generations revealed that proportion of NZB mtDNA was preferentially reduced. Ultimately, this segregation process produced NZB-129 heteroplasmic mice and their NZB or 129 mtDNA homoplasmic counterparts. Phenotypic comparison of these three mtDNA lines demonstrated that the NZB-129 heteroplasmic mice, but neither homoplasmic counterpart, had reduced activity, food intake, respiratory exchange ratio; accentuated stress response; and cognitive impairment. Therefore, admixture of two normal but different mouse mtDNAs can be genetically unstable and can produce adverse physiological effects, factors that may explain the advantage of uniparental inheritance of mtDNA.

Concepts: Psychology, Gene, Genetics, Biology, Mitochondrial DNA, Mouse, Paternal mtDNA transmission, Heteroplasmy


DNA sequencing identifies common and rare genetic variants for association studies, but studies typically focus on variants in nuclear DNA and ignore the mitochondrial genome. In fact, analyzing variants in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences presents special problems, which we resolve here with a general solution for the analysis of mtDNA in next-generation sequencing studies. The new program package comprises 1) an algorithm designed to identify mtDNA variants (i.e., homoplasmies and heteroplasmies), incorporating sequencing error rates at each base in a likelihood calculation and allowing allele fractions at a variant site to differ across individuals; and 2) an estimation of mtDNA copy number in a cell directly from whole-genome sequencing data. We also apply the methods to DNA sequence from lymphocytes of ~2,000 SardiNIA Project participants. As expected, mothers and offspring share all homoplasmies but a lesser proportion of heteroplasmies. Both homoplasmies and heteroplasmies show 5-fold higher transition/transversion ratios than variants in nuclear DNA. Also, heteroplasmy increases with age, though on average only ~1 heteroplasmy reaches the 4% level between ages 20 and 90. In addition, we find that mtDNA copy number averages ~110 copies/lymphocyte and is ~54% heritable, implying substantial genetic regulation of the level of mtDNA. Copy numbers also decrease modestly but significantly with age, and females on average have significantly more copies than males. The mtDNA copy numbers are significantly associated with waist circumference (p-value = 0.0031) and waist-hip ratio (p-value = 2.4×10-5), but not with body mass index, indicating an association with central fat distribution. To our knowledge, this is the largest population analysis to date of mtDNA dynamics, revealing the age-imposed increase in heteroplasmy, the relatively high heritability of copy number, and the association of copy number with metabolic traits.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Body mass index, Nuclear DNA, Paternal mtDNA transmission


A majority of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations reported to be implicated in diseases are heteroplasmic, a status with coexisting mtDNA variants in a single cell. Quantifying the prevalence of mitochondrial heteroplasmy and its pathogenic effect in healthy individuals could further our understanding of its possible roles in various diseases. A total of 1,085 human individuals from 14 global populations have been sequenced by the 1000 Genomes Project to a mean coverage of ∼2,000× on mtDNA. Using a combination of stringent thresholds and a maximum-likelihood method to define heteroplasmy, we demonstrated that ∼90% of the individuals carry at least one heteroplasmy. At least 20% of individuals harbor heteroplasmies reported to be implicated in disease. Mitochondrial heteroplasmy tend to show high pathogenicity, and is significantly overrepresented in disease-associated loci. Consistent with their deleterious effect, heteroplasmies with derived allele frequency larger than 60% within an individual show a significant reduction in pathogenicity, indicating the action of purifying selection. Purifying selection on heteroplasmies can also be inferred from nonsynonymous and synonymous heteroplasmy comparison and the unfolded site frequency spectra for different functional sites in mtDNA. Nevertheless, in comparison with population polymorphic mtDNA mutations, the purifying selection is much less efficient in removing heteroplasmic mutations. The prevalence of mitochondrial heteroplasmy with high pathogenic potential in healthy individuals, along with the possibility of these mutations drifting to high frequency inside a subpopulation of cells across lifespan, emphasizes the importance of managing mitochondrial heteroplasmy to prevent disease progression.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Epidemiology, Human, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Paternal mtDNA transmission, Heteroplasmy


Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia and AD risk clusters within families. Part of the familial aggregation of AD is accounted for by excess maternal vs. paternal inheritance, a pattern consistent with mitochondrial inheritance. The role of specific mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variants and haplogroups in AD risk is uncertain.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, DNA, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Dementia, Mitochondrial Eve, Paternal mtDNA transmission, Cinderella effect


Next generation sequencing (NGS) allows investigating mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) characteristics such as heteroplasmy (i.e. intra-individual sequence variation) to a higher level of detail. While several pipelines for analyzing heteroplasmies exist, issues in usability, accuracy of results and interpreting final data limit their usage. Here we present mtDNA-Server, a scalable web server for the analysis of mtDNA studies of any size with a special focus on usability as well as reliable identification and quantification of heteroplasmic variants. The mtDNA-Server workflow includes parallel read alignment, heteroplasmy detection, artefact or contamination identification, variant annotation as well as several quality control metrics, often neglected in current mtDNA NGS studies. All computational steps are parallelized with Hadoop MapReduce and executed graphically with Cloudgene. We validated the underlying heteroplasmy and contamination detection model by generating four artificial sample mix-ups on two different NGS devices. Our evaluation data shows that mtDNA-Server detects heteroplasmies and artificial recombinations down to the 1% level with perfect specificity and outperforms existing approaches regarding sensitivity. mtDNA-Server is currently able to analyze the 1000G Phase 3 data (n= 2,504) in less than 5 h and is freely accessible at

Concepts: DNA, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Human mitochondrial genetics, Mitochondrial disease, Hadoop, Paternal mtDNA transmission, Heteroplasmy