Extraocular mitochondrial myopathies and their differential diagnoses

Strabismus. 2006 Jun;14(2):107-13. doi: 10.1080/09273970600701218.


The diagnosis of mitochondrial myopathy depends upon a constellation of findings, family history, type of muscle involvement, specific laboratory abnormalities, and the results of histological, pathobiochemical and genetic analysis. In the present paper, the authors describe the diagnostic approach to mitochondrial myopathies manifesting as extraocular muscle disease. The most common ocular manifestation of mitochondrial myopathy is progressive external ophthalmoplegia (PEO). To exclude myasthenia gravis, ocular myositis, thyroid associated orbitopathy, oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy, and congenital fibrosis of the extraocular muscles in patients with an early onset or long-lasting very slowly progressive ptosis and external ophthalmoplegia, almost without any diplopia, and normal to mildly elevated serum creatine kinase and lactate, electromyography, nerve conduction studies and MRI of the orbits should be performed. A PEO phenotype forces one to look comprehensively for other multisystemic mitochondrial features (e.g., exercise induced weakness, encephalopathy, polyneuropathy, diabetes, heart disease). Thereafter, and presently even in familiar PEO, a diagnostic muscle biopsy should be taken. Histological and ultrastructural hallmarks are mitochondrial proliferations and structural abnormalities, lipid storage, ragged-red fibers, or cytochrome-C negative myofibers. In addition, Southern blotting may reveal the common deletion, or molecular analysis may verify specific mutations of distinct mitochondrial or nuclear genes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / analysis
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Electromyography
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Myasthenia Gravis / diagnosis
  • Oculomotor Muscles / pathology
  • Oculomotor Muscles / physiopathology
  • Ophthalmoplegia, Chronic Progressive External / diagnosis*
  • Orbital Pseudotumor / diagnosis


  • DNA, Mitochondrial