Eur J Neurol. 2004 Mar;11(3):163-86. doi: 10.1046/j.1351-5101.2003.00728.x.


Mitochondriopathies (MCPs) are either due to sporadic or inherited mutations in nuclear or mitochondrial DNA located genes (primary MCPs), or due to exogenous factors (secondary MCPs). MCPs usually show a chronic, slowly progressive course and present with multiorgan involvement with varying onset between birth and late adulthood. Although several proteins with signalling, assembling, transport, enzymatic function can be impaired in MCP, most frequently the activity of the respiratory chain (RC) protein complexes is primarily or secondarily affected, leading to impaired oxygen utilization and reduced energy production. MCPs represent a diagnostic challenge because of their wide variation in presentation and course. Systems frequently affected in MCP are the peripheral nervous system (myopathy, polyneuropathy, lactacidosis), brain (leucencephalopathy, calcifications, stroke-like episodes, atrophy with dementia, epilepsy, upper motor neuron signs, ataxia, extrapyramidal manifestations, fatigue), endocrinium (short stature, hyperhidrosis, diabetes, hyperlipidaemia, hypogonadism, amenorrhoea, delayed puberty), heart (impulse generation or conduction defects, cardiomyopathy, left ventricular non-compaction heart failure), eyes (cataract, glaucoma, pigmentary retinopathy, optic atrophy), ears (deafness, tinnitus, peripheral vertigo), guts (dysphagia, vomiting, diarrhoea, hepatopathy, pseudo-obstruction, pancreatitis, pancreas insufficiency), kidney (renal failure, cysts) and bone marrow (sideroblastic anaemia). Apart from well-recognized syndromes, MCP should be considered in any patient with unexplained progressive multisystem disorder. Although there is actually no specific therapy and cure for MCP, many secondary problems require specific treatment. The rapidly increasing understanding of the pathophysiological background of MCPs may further facilitate the diagnostic approach and open perspectives to future, possibly causative therapies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / genetics*
  • Mitochondria / pathology*
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / diagnosis
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / genetics*
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / metabolism
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / pathology*
  • Mutation


  • DNA, Mitochondrial