Clinical differences in patients with mitochondriocytopathies due to nuclear versus mitochondrial DNA mutations

Hum Mutat. 2000;15(6):522-32. doi: 10.1002/1098-1004(200006)15:6<522::AID-HUMU4>3.0.CO;2-Y.


Defects in oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) are genetically unique because the different components involved in this process, respiratory chain enzyme complexes (I, III, and IV) and complex V, are encoded by nuclear and mitochondrial genome. The objective of the study was to assess whether there are clinical differences in patients suffering from OXPHOS defects caused by nuclear or mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations. We studied 16 families with > or = two siblings with a genetically established OXPHOS deficiency, four due to a nuclear gene mutation and 12 due to a mtDNA mutation. Siblings with a nuclear gene mutation showed very similar clinical pictures that became manifest in the first years (ranging from first months to early childhood). There was a severe progressive course. Seven of the eight children died in their first decade. Conversely, siblings with a mtDNA mutation had clinical pictures that varied from almost alike to very distinct. They became symptomatic at an older age (ranging from childhood to adulthood), with the exception of defects associated with Leigh or Leigh-like phenotype. The clinical course was more gradual and relatively less severe; four of the 26 patients died, one in his second year, another in her second decade and two in their sixth decade. There are differences in age at onset, severity of clinical course, outcome, and intrafamilial variability in patients affected of an OXPHOS defect due to nuclear or mtDNA mutations. Patients with nuclear mutations become symptomatic at a young age, and have a severe clinical course. Patients with mtDNA mutations show a wider clinical spectrum of age at onset and severity. These differences may be of importance regarding the choice of which genome to study in affected patients as well as with respect to genetic counseling.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age of Onset
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Consanguinity
  • DNA / genetics*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Family Health
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Mutation*
  • Nuclear Family
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation*
  • Phenotype


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • DNA