The molecular basis of human complex I deficiency

IUBMB Life. 2011 Sep;63(9):669-77. doi: 10.1002/iub.495. Epub 2011 Jul 15.


Disorders of oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) have a birth prevalence of ∼1/5,000 and are the most common inborn errors of metabolism. The most common OXPHOS disorder is complex I deficiency. Patients with complex I deficiency present with variable symptoms, such as muscle weakness, cardiomyopathy, developmental delay or regression, blindness, seizures, failure to thrive, liver dysfunction or ataxia. Molecular diagnosis of patients with complex I deficiency is a challenging task due to the clinical heterogeneity of patients and the large number of candidate disease genes, both nuclear-encoded and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)-encoded. In this review, we have thoroughly surveyed the literature to identify 149 patients described with both isolated complex I deficiency and pathogenic mutations within nuclear genes. In total, 115 different pathogenic mutations have been reported in 22 different nuclear genes encoding complex I subunits or assembly factors, highlighting the allelic and locus heterogeneity of this disorder. Missense mutations predominate in genes encoding core subunits and some assembly factors while null-type mutations are common in the genes encoding supernumerary subunits and other assembly factors. Despite developments in molecular technology, many patients do not receive molecular diagnosis and no gene has yet been identified that accounts for more than 5% of cases, suggesting that there are likely many disease genes that await discovery.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Computational Biology
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Electron Transport Complex I / deficiency*
  • Genes / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Metabolism, Inborn Errors / genetics*
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / genetics*
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Protein Subunits / genetics


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Protein Subunits
  • Electron Transport Complex I