Mitochondrial DNA variation in human evolution and disease

Gene. 1999 Sep 30;238(1):211-30. doi: 10.1016/s0378-1119(99)00295-4.


Analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation has permitted the reconstruction of the ancient migrations of women. This has provided evidence that our species arose in Africa about 150000 years before present (YBP), migrated out of Africa into Asia about 60000 to 70000 YBP and into Europe about 40000 to 50000 YBP, and migrated from Asia and possibly Europe to the Americas about 20000 to 30000 YBP. Although much of the mtDNA variation that exists in modern populations may be selectively neutral, studies of the mildly deleterious mtDNA mutations causing Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON) have demonstrated that some continent-specific mtDNA lineages are more prone to manifest the clinical symptoms of LHON than others. Hence, all mtDNA lineages are not equal, which may provide insights into the extreme environments that were encountered by our ancient ancestor, and which may be of great importance in understanding the pathophysiology of mitochondrial disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Female
  • Genetics, Population
  • Humans
  • Mitochondrial Myopathies / genetics*
  • Optic Atrophies, Hereditary / genetics*
  • Pedigree


  • DNA, Mitochondrial