Objective: To investigate the correlation between biochemical and clinical phenotype in 6 patients from 3 unrelated families with different mutation loads (heteroplasmy) of the T8993G mitochondrial DNA mutation associated with neuropathy, ataxia, and retinitis pigmentosa-Leigh syndrome.
Methods: We studied adenosine triphosphate (ATP) synthase activity (synthesis and hydrolysis) in platelet-derived submitochondrial particles and assessed mutant loads both in platelets used for biochemical analysis and in other available tissues. Biochemical and molecular results were correlated with clinical features.
Results: The rate of ATP hydrolysis was normal, but ATP synthesis was severely impaired (30% to 4% of residual activity) in patients harboring 34% to 90% mutant mitochondrial DNA, without any evidence of a threshold for the expression of this defect. There was little variation in heteroplasmy among tissues from each patient, but wider variability was detected in 2 mothers. Correlation of heteroplasmy and clinical and biochemical features suggested that ATP synthesis is defective at mutant loads as low as 34% and is extremely reduced at mutant loads above 80% when the phenotype is neuropathy, ataxia, and retinitis pigmentosa-Leigh syndrome.
Conclusions: This study indicates a close relationship between tissue heteroplasmy, expression of the biochemical defect in platelets, and clinical involvement. The biochemical defect was greater than previously reported, and we found no evidence of a biochemical threshold. The uniform distribution of high mutant loads among our patients' tissues suggests a differential tissue-specific reliance on mitochondrial ATP synthesis.