Background and aims: Meningococcal disease remains one of the most important infectious causes of death in industrialized countries. The highly diverse clinical presentation and prognosis of Neisseria meningitidis infections are the result of complex host genetics and environmental interactions. We investigated whether mitochondrial genetic background contributes to meningococcal disease (MD) susceptibility.
Methodology/principal findings: Prospective controlled study was performed through a national research network on MD that includes 41 Spanish hospitals. Cases were 307 paediatric patients with confirmed MD, representing the largest series of MD patients analysed to date. Two independent sets of ethnicity-matched control samples (CG1 [N = 917]), and CG2 [N = 616]) were used for comparison. Cases and controls underwent mtDNA haplotyping of a selected set of 25 mtDNA SNPs (mtSNPs), some of them defining major European branches of the mtDNA phylogeny. In addition, 34 ancestry informative markers (AIMs) were genotyped in cases and CG2 in order to monitor potential hidden population stratification. Samples of known African, Native American and European ancestry (N = 711) were used as classification sets for the determination of ancestral membership of our MD patients. A total of 39 individuals were eliminated from the main statistical analyses (including fourteen gypsies) on the basis of either non-Spanish self-reported ancestry or the results of AIMs indicating a European membership lower than 95%. Association analysis of the remaining 268 cases against CG1 suggested an overrepresentation of the synonym mtSNP G11719A variant (Pearson's chi-square test; adjusted P-value = 0.0188; OR [95% CI] = 1.63 [1.22-2.18]). When cases were compared with CG2, the positive association could not be replicated. No positive association has been observed between haplogroup (hg) status of cases and CG1/CG2 and hg status of cases and several clinical variants.
Conclusions: We did not find evidence of association between mtSNPs and mtDNA hgs with MD after carefully monitoring the confounding effect of population sub-structure. MtDNA variability is particularly stratified in human populations owing to its low effective population size in comparison with autosomal markers and therefore, special care should be taken in the interpretation of seeming signals of positive associations in mtDNA case-control association studies.