Persistent heteroplasmy of a mutation in the human mtDNA control region: hypermutation as an apparent consequence of simple-repeat expansion/contraction

Am J Hum Genet. 2000 May;66(5):1589-98. doi: 10.1086/302910. Epub 2000 Apr 10.


In the genealogical and phylogenetic analyses that are reported here, we obtained evidence for an unusual pattern of mutation/reversion in the human mitochondrial genome. The cumulative results indicate that, when there is a T-->C polymorphism at nt 16189 and a C-->T substitution at nt 16192, there is an extremely high rate of reversion (hypermutation) at the latter site. The apparent reversion rate is sufficiently high that there is persistent heteroplasmy at nt 16192 in maternal lineages and at the phylogenetic level, a situation that is similar to that observed for the rapid expansion/contraction of simple repeats within the control region. This is the first specific instance in which the mutation frequency at one site in the D-loop is markedly influenced by the local sequence "context." The 16189 T-->C polymorphism lengthens a (C:G)n simple repeat, which then undergoes expansion and contraction, probably through replication slippage. This proclivity toward expansion/contraction is more pronounced when there is a C residue, rather than a T, at nt 16192. The high T-->C reversion frequency at nt 16192 apparently is the result of polymerase misincorporation or slippage during replication, the same mechanism that also causes the expansion/contraction of this simple-repeat sequence. In addition to the first analysis of this mitochondrial hypermutation process, these results also yield mechanistic insights into the expansion/contraction of simple-repeat sequences in mtDNA.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Cytoplasm / genetics*
  • DNA Replication / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Female
  • Gene Frequency / genetics
  • Haplotypes / genetics
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Male
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutagenesis / genetics
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Optic Atrophies, Hereditary / blood
  • Optic Atrophies, Hereditary / genetics
  • Optic Atrophies, Hereditary / pathology
  • Pedigree
  • Phylogeny
  • Polymorphism, Genetic / genetics
  • Regulatory Sequences, Nucleic Acid / genetics*
  • Trinucleotide Repeat Expansion / genetics*


  • DNA, Mitochondrial