Mitochondrial DNA mutations in primary leukemia cells after chemotherapy: clinical significance and therapeutic implications

Leukemia. 2003 Aug;17(8):1437-47. doi: 10.1038/sj.leu.2403043.


Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) codes for 13 respiratory chain subunits and is more vulnerable to damage than nuclear DNA due, in part, to a lack of histone protection and a weak repair capacity. While mtDNA alterations have been observed in human cancer, their roles in oncogenesis and chemosensitivity remain unclear. We investigated the relationship between mtDNA mutations, reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation, and clinical outcomes in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients. An analysis of mtDNA from 20 CLL patients revealed that primary CLL cells from patients with prior chemotherapy had a significantly higher frequency of heteroplasmic mutations than did those from untreated patients. Overall, mtDNA mutations appeared to be associated with increased ROS generation. Patients refractory to conventional therapeutic agents tended to have higher mutation rates than patients who responded to treatment. Analysis of paired blood samples from the same patient led to the identification of a heteroplasmic mutation in the cytochrome c oxidase II gene several months after chemotherapy. The mutation was associated with increased ROS generation. Our results suggest for the first time that chemotherapy with DNA-damaging agents may cause mtDNA mutations in primary leukemia cells, which often exist in heteroplasmy, and are associated with increased ROS generation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / genetics
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / drug therapy
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / genetics
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / pathology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Superoxides / metabolism
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Superoxides
  • Electron Transport Complex IV