Quantitative evaluation of the mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome

Clin Chem. 2010 Jul;56(7):1119-27. doi: 10.1373/clinchem.2009.141549. Epub 2010 May 6.


Background: The mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) depletion syndromes (MDDSs) are autosomal recessive disorders characterized by a reduction in cellular mtDNA content. Mutations in at least 9 genes [POLG, polymerase (DNA directed), gamma; DGUOK, deoxyguanosine kinase; TK2, thymidine kinase, mitochondrial; TYMP, thymidine phosphorylase; MPV17, MpV17 mitochondrial inner membrane protein; SUCLA2, succinate-CoA ligase, ADP-forming, beta subunit; SUCLG1, succinate-CoA ligase, alpha subunit; RRM2B, RRM2B, ribonucleotide reductase M2 B (TP53 inducible); and C10orf2, chromosome 10 open reading frame 2 (also known as TWINKLE)] have been reported to cause mtDNA depletion. In the clinical setting, a simple method to quantify mtDNA depletion would be useful before undertaking gene sequence analysis.

Methods: Real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR) was used to measure the mtDNA content in blood, muscle, and liver samples and in skin fibroblast cultures from individuals suspected of mitochondrial disorders, with or without deleterious mutations in genes responsible for MDDS.

Results: The mtDNA content was quantified in 776 tissue samples (blood, n = 341; muscle, n = 325; liver, n = 63; skin fibroblasts, n = 47) from control individuals. mtDNA content increased with age in muscle tissue, decreased with age in blood samples, and appeared to be unaffected by age in liver samples. In 165 samples (blood, n = 122; muscle, n = 21; liver, n = 15; skin fibroblasts, n = 7) from patients with molecularly proven MDDSs, severe mtDNA depletion was detected in liver and muscle tissue with high specificity and sensitivity. Blood samples were specific but not sensitive for detecting mtDNA depletion, and skin fibroblasts were not valuable for evaluating mtDNA depletion. Mutations in the POLG, RRM2B, and MPV17 genes were prospectively identified in 1 blood, 1 liver, and 3 muscle samples.

Conclusions: Muscle and liver tissues, but not blood or skin fibroblasts, are potentially useful for rapid screening for mtDNA depletion with real-time qPCR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / analysis*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / blood
  • Fibroblasts / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Liver / chemistry
  • Middle Aged
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / genetics
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / chemistry
  • Mutation
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Reference Values
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Skin / chemistry
  • Syndrome
  • Young Adult


  • DNA, Mitochondrial