Exercise intolerance due to mutations in the cytochrome b gene of mitochondrial DNA

N Engl J Med. 1999 Sep 30;341(14):1037-44. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199909303411404.


Background: The mitochondrial myopathies typically affect many organ systems and are associated with mutations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) that are maternally inherited. However, there is also a sporadic form of mitochondrial myopathy in which exercise intolerance is the predominant symptom. We studied the biochemical and molecular characteristics of this sporadic myopathy.

Methods: We sequenced the mtDNA cytochrome b gene in blood and muscle specimens from five patients with severe exercise intolerance, lactic acidosis in the resting state (in four patients), and biochemical evidence of complex III deficiency. We compared the clinical and molecular features of these patients with those previously described in four other patients with mutations in the cytochrome b gene.

Results: We found a total of three different nonsense mutations (G15084A, G15168A, and G15723A), one missense mutation (G14846A), and a 24-bp deletion (from nucleotide 15498 to 15521) in the cytochrome b gene in the five patients. Each of these mutations impairs the enzymatic function of the cytochrome b protein. In these patients and those previously described, the clinical manifestations included progressive exercise intolerance, proximal limb weakness, and in some cases, attacks of myoglobinuria. There was no maternal inheritance and there were no mutations in tissues other than muscle. The absence of these findings suggests that the disorder is due to somatic mutations in myogenic stem cells after germ-layer differentiation. All the point mutations involved the substitution of adenine for guanine, but all were in different locations.

Conclusions: The sporadic form of mitochondrial myopathy is associated with somatic mutations in the cytochrome b gene of mtDNA. This myopathy is one cause of the common and often elusive syndrome of exercise intolerance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cytochrome b Group / chemistry
  • Cytochrome b Group / genetics*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Exercise Tolerance / genetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mitochondrial Myopathies / genetics*
  • Muscle Fatigue / genetics*
  • Muscles / pathology
  • Mutation*
  • Mutation, Missense
  • Pain / genetics
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sequence Deletion


  • Cytochrome b Group
  • DNA, Mitochondrial