Blue native polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis: a powerful tool in diagnosis of oxidative phosphorylation defects

Pediatr Res. 2001 Nov;50(5):658-65. doi: 10.1203/00006450-200111000-00020.


Catalytic activity of oxidative phosphorylation complexes is maintained following separation by Blue Native polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (BN-PAGE). In BN-PAGE gels, using histochemical staining methods, we have demonstrated enzymatic activity of the complexes I, II, IV, and V in heart and skeletal muscle, liver, and cultured skin fibroblasts. The combination of BN-PAGE and catalytic staining can be successfully applied for detection of complex deficiencies. Tissues from 18 patients with deficiency in the oxidative phosphorylation as detected by spectrophotometric assay were used (10 patients complex IV, three patients complex I, one patient complex II, one patient complex I+III, three patients complex I+IV). The gene defect was located in nuclear DNA in five patients and mitochondrial DNA in one patient. In samples from patients with a severe deficiency, almost complete absence of the corresponding enzyme band is observed after catalytic staining in the gel. In patients with known partial deficiency, a milder decrease of the corresponding enzyme band is demonstrated. The amount of protein in complexes I, V, and III can easily be evaluated in samples from heart and skeletal muscle after separation by BN-PAGE using silver or Coomassie staining. The protein amount in complex IV is difficult to visualize by silver staining but easier by the Coomassie technique. In samples from liver and cultured skin fibroblasts, evaluation of protein amount is more difficult due to high background staining. In these tissues, immunoblotting can be done after BN-PAGE and subsequent transfer to a nitrocellulose membrane.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Catalysis
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Child
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel / methods*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Metabolism, Inborn Errors / diagnosis*
  • Mitochondria, Liver / enzymology
  • Mitochondria, Muscle / enzymology
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation*


  • DNA, Mitochondrial