Mitochondrial DNA polymerase gamma is essential for mammalian embryogenesis

Hum Mol Genet. 2005 Jul 1;14(13):1775-83. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddi184. Epub 2005 May 11.


Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) polymerase gamma (Polg) is a heterodimeric enzyme containing a Pol I-like catalytic core (PolgA) and an accessory subunit. Mutations in POLGA, affecting the stability of mtDNA, have been identified in several human pathologies such as progressive external ophthalmoplegia and Alpers' syndrome. Extensive literature shows mitochondrial toxicity effects nucleoside analogue reverse transcriptase inhibitors used in the treatment of HIV and chronic hepatitis B as a consequence of an inhibitory effect on Polg. We have previously shown that mice with an error-prone version of PolgA accumulate higher levels of somatic mtDNA mutations resulting in a premature aging phenotype. In the present paper, we demonstrate PolgA deficiency in mouse embryos causes an early developmental arrest between embryonic days 7.5 and 8.5 associated with severe mtDNA depletion. Heterozygous knockout mice have half the wild-type levels of PolgA transcripts and a slight reduction in mtDNA levels but develop normally. Surprisingly, amounts of PolgA transcripts in heterozygous knockout mice are increased in response to artificially elevated mtDNA copy number, revealing a possible regulatory link between mtDNA maintenance and PolgA expression. Our results show that Polg indeed is the only DNA polymerase capable of maintaining mtDNA in mammalian mitochondria. In addition, presence of Polg is absolutely essential for the organogenesis during mammalian embryonic development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Polymerase gamma
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / genetics*
  • Diffuse Cerebral Sclerosis of Schilder / genetics
  • Gene Deletion*
  • Heterozygote
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mitochondria / genetics*
  • Ophthalmoplegia / genetics
  • Organogenesis / genetics*


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • DNA Polymerase gamma
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase
  • POLG protein, human
  • Polg protein, mouse