High mitochondrial DNA copy number has detrimental effects in mice

Hum Mol Genet. 2010 Jul 1;19(13):2695-705. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddq163. Epub 2010 Apr 22.


Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is an essential multicopy genome, compacted into protein-DNA clusters called nucleoids. Maintaining an adequate mtDNA copy number is crucial for cellular viability. Loss of mtDNA results in severe human syndromes, whereas increased mtDNA copy number has been suggested to improve survival from myocardial infarction in mice and to be a promising therapeutic strategy for mitochondrial disease. The mechanisms that regulate mtDNA amount and organization are, however, not fully understood. Of the proteins required for mtDNA existence, only the mitochondrial helicase Twinkle and mitochondrial transcription factor A (TFAM) have been shown to increase mtDNA copy number in vivo, when expressed in physiological levels. Here we studied how Twinkle and TFAM affect mtDNA synthesis and nucleoid structure in mice. Using in vivo BrdU labeling, we show that Twinkle specifically regulates de novo mtDNA synthesis. Remarkably, high mtDNA copy number in mice is accompanied by nucleoid enlargement, which in turn correlates with defective transcription, age-related accumulation of mtDNA deletions and respiratory chain (RC) deficiency. Simultaneous overexpression of Twinkle and TFAM in bitransgenic mice has an additive effect on mtDNA copy number, increasing it up to 6-fold in skeletal muscle. Bitransgenic mice also exhibit further enlargement of nucleoids and aggravation of the RC defect. In conclusion, we show that Twinkle acts as a regulator of mtDNA replication initiation, and provide evidence that high mtDNA copy number and alteration of nucleoid architecture may be detrimental to mitochondrial function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • DNA Copy Number Variations* / physiology
  • DNA Helicases / metabolism*
  • DNA Replication*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / metabolism*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Electron Transport
  • High Mobility Group Proteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • High Mobility Group Proteins
  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • Tfam protein, mouse
  • Twnk protein, mouse
  • DNA Helicases