Germ line insertion of mtDNA at the breakpoint junction of a reciprocal constitutional translocation

Hum Genet. 2001 Aug;109(2):216-23. doi: 10.1007/s004390100564.


Constitutional chromosomal translocations are relatively common causes of human morbidity, yet the DNA double-strand break (DSB) repair mechanisms that generate them are incompletely understood. We cloned, sequenced and analyzed the breakpoint junctions of a familial constitutional reciprocal translocation t(9;11)(p24;q23). Within the 10-kb region flanking the breakpoints, chromosome 11 had 25% repeat elements, whereas chromosome 9 had 98% repeats, 95% of which were L1-type LINE elements. The breakpoints occurred within an L1-type repeat element at 9p24 and at the 3'-end of an Alu sequence at 11q23. At the breakpoint junction of derivative chromosome 9, we discovered an unusually large 41-bp insertion, which showed 100% identity to 12S mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) between nucleotides 896 and 936 of the mtDNA sequence. Analysis of the human genome failed to show the preexistence of the inserted sequence at normal chromosomes 9 and 11 breakpoint junctions or elsewhere in the genome, strongly suggesting that the insertion was derived from human mtDNA and captured into the junction during the DSB repair process. To our knowledge, these findings represent the first observation of spontaneous germ line insertion of modern human mtDNA sequences and suggest that DSB repair may play a role in inter-organellar gene transfer in vivo. Our findings also provide evidence for a previously unrecognized insertional mechanism in human, by which non-mobile extra-chromosomal fragments can be inserted into the genome at DSB repair junctions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Chromosome Breakage / genetics*
  • Chromosome Mapping / methods
  • Chromosome Segregation
  • Chromosomes, Artificial, Bacterial
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 11 / genetics
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 9 / genetics*
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • DNA Primers / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Female
  • Gene Rearrangement
  • Genetic Testing
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Pedigree
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid
  • Translocation, Genetic*


  • DNA Primers
  • DNA, Mitochondrial