False-positive diagnosis of a single, large-scale mitochondrial DNA deletion by Southern blot analysis: the role of neutral polymorphisms

Genet Test. 2004 Winter;8(4):395-9. doi: 10.1089/gte.2004.8.395.


Single, large-scale deletions of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) are a common finding in the molecular investigation of patients with suspected mitochondrial disorders and are typically detected by Southern blot analysis of muscle DNA that has been linearized by a single cutter enzyme (BamHI or PvuII). We describe our investigations of a 47-year-old woman with exercise intolerance, myalgia, and ptosis who underwent a muscle biopsy for a suspected mitochondrial genetic abnormality. Southern blot analysis after digestion of muscle DNA with BamHI revealed the apparent presence of two mtDNA species, indicative of a heteroplasmic deletion of 2.0-2.5 kb in length involving approximately 50% of all molecules. Contrary to this observation, longrange polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplified only wild-type mtDNA. Sequence analysis revealed that the patient harbored two previously recognized control region polymorphisms, a homoplasmic 16390G>A variant that introduces a new BamHI site and a heteroplasmic 16390G>A change that abolishes this site, thus explaining the initial false-positive testing for a heteroplasmic mtDNA deletion. Our findings highlight the potential problems associated with the diagnosis of mitochondrial genetic disease and emphasize the need to confirm positive cases of mtDNA deletions using more than one enzyme or an independent method such as long-range PCR amplification.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy
  • Blotting, Southern / methods
  • Blotting, Southern / standards*
  • DNA Mutational Analysis / methods*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Deoxyribonuclease BamHI / pharmacology
  • False Positive Reactions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Mitochondrial Myopathies / complications
  • Mitochondrial Myopathies / diagnosis*
  • Mitochondrial Myopathies / genetics*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology
  • Point Mutation
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Polymorphism, Genetic


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Deoxyribonuclease BamHI