MELAS: a nationwide prospective cohort study of 96 patients in Japan

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2012 May;1820(5):619-24. doi: 10.1016/j.bbagen.2011.03.015. Epub 2011 Apr 2.


Background: MELAS (mitochondrial myopathy, encephalopathy, lactic acidosis and stroke-like episodes) (OMIM 540000) is the most dominant subtype of mitochondrial myopathy. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence, natural course, and severity of MELAS.

Methods: A prospective cohort study of 96 Japanese patients with MELAS was followed between June 2003 and April 2008. Patients with MELAS were identified and enrolled based on questionnaires administered to neurologists in Japan. MELAS was defined using the Japanese diagnostic criteria for MELAS. Two follow-up questionnaires were administered to neurologists managing MELAS patients at an interval of 5years.

Results: A prevalence of at least 0.58 (95% confidential interval (CI), 0.54-0.62)/100,000 was calculated for mitochondrial myopathy, whereas the prevalence of MELAS was 0.18 (95%CI, 0.02-0.34)/100,000 in the total population. MELAS patients were divided into two sub-groups: juvenile form and adult form. Stroke-like episodes, seizure and headache were the most frequent symptoms seen in both forms of MELAS. Short stature was significantly more frequent in the juvenile form, whereas hearing loss, cortical blindness and diabetes mellitus were significantly more frequent in the adult form. According to the Japanese mitochondrial disease rating scale, MELAS patients showed rapidly increasing scores (mean±standard deviation, 12.8±8.7) within 5years from onset of the disease. According to a Kaplan-Meier analysis, the juvenile form was associated with a higher risk of death than the adult form (hazard ratio, 3.29; 95%CI, 1.32-8.20; p=0.0105).

Conclusions and general significance: We confirmed that MELAS shows a rapid degenerative progression within a 5-year interval and that this occurs in both the juvenile and the adult forms of MELAS and follows different natural courses. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Biochemistry of Mitochondria.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arginine / therapeutic use
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Japan / epidemiology
  • MELAS Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • MELAS Syndrome / drug therapy
  • MELAS Syndrome / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult


  • Arginine