Mitochondrial disorders: genetics, counseling, prenatal diagnosis and reproductive options

Am J Med Genet. Spring 2001;106(1):102-14. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.1380.


Most patients with mitochondrial disorders are diagnosed by finding a respiratory chain enzyme defect or a mutation in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). The provision of accurate genetic counseling and reproductive options to these families is complicated by the unique genetic features of mtDNA that distinguish it from Mendelian genetics. These include maternal inheritance, heteroplasmy, the threshold effect, the mitochondrial bottleneck, tissue variation, and selection. Although we still have much to learn about mtDNA genetics, it is now possible to provide useful guidance to families with an mtDNA mutation or a respiratory chain enzyme defect. We describe a range of current reproductive options that may be considered for prevention of transmission of mtDNA mutations, including the use of donor oocytes, prenatal diagnosis (by chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis), and preimplantation genetic diagnosis, plus possible future options such as nuclear transfer and cytoplasmic transfer. For common mtDNA mutations associated with mitochondrial cytopathies (such as NARP, Leigh Disease, MELAS, MERRF, Leber's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, CPEO, Kearns-Sayre syndrome, and Pearson syndrome), we summarize the available data on recurrence risk and discuss the relative advantages and disadvantages of reproductive options.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Female
  • Genetic Counseling*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / genetics*
  • Mutation*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Diagnosis*


  • DNA, Mitochondrial