Surveyor Nuclease: a new strategy for a rapid identification of heteroplasmic mitochondrial DNA mutations in patients with respiratory chain defects

Hum Mutat. 2005 Jun;25(6):575-82. doi: 10.1002/humu.20177.


Molecular analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is a critical step in diagnosis and genetic counseling of respiratory chain defects. No fast method is currently available for the identification of unknown mtDNA point mutations. We have developed a new strategy based on complete mtDNA PCR amplification followed by digestion with a mismatch-specific DNA endonuclease, Surveyor Nuclease. This enzyme, a member of the CEL nuclease family of plant DNA endonucleases, cleaves double-strand DNA at any mismatch site including base substitutions and small insertions/deletions. After digestion, cleavage products are separated and analyzed by agarose gel electrophoresis. The size of the digestion products indicates the location of the mutation, which is then confirmed and characterized by sequencing. Although this method allows the analysis of 2 kb mtDNA amplicons and the detection of multiple mutations within the same fragment, it does not lead to the identification of homoplasmic base substitutions. Homoplasmic pathogenic mutations have been described. Nevertheless, most homoplasmic base substitutions are neutral polymorphisms while deleterious mutations are typically heteroplasmic. Here, we report that this method can be used to detect mtDNA mutations such as m.3243A>G tRNA(Leu) and m.14709T>C tRNA(Glu) even when they are present at levels as low as 3% in DNA samples derived from patients with respiratory chain defects. Then, we tested five patients suffering from a mitochondrial respiratory chain defect and we identified a variant (m.16189T>C) in two of them, which was previously associated with susceptibility to diabetes and cardiomyopathy. In conclusion, this method can be effectively used to rapidly and completely screen the entire human mitochondrial genome for heteroplasmic mutations and in this context represents an important advance for the diagnosis of mitochondrial diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Pair Mismatch / genetics*
  • Cardiomyopathy, Dilated / genetics
  • DNA Mutational Analysis*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Deoxyribonucleases / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / genetics
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Genetic Testing
  • Genome, Human / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / genetics*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Deoxyribonucleases