Objectives: Myoclonic epilepsy with ragged-red fibers (MERRF) is a rare mitochondrial syndrome, mostly caused by the 8344A>G mitochondrial DNA mutation. Most of the previous studies have been based on single case/family reports or series with few patients. The primary aim of this study was the characterization of a large cohort of patients with the 8344A>G mutation. The secondary aim was revision of the previously published data.
Methods: Retrospective, database-based study (Nation-wide Italian Collaborative Network of Mitochondrial Diseases) and systematic revision.
Results: Forty-two patients carrying the mutation were identified. The great majority did not have full-blown MERRF syndrome. Myoclonus was present in 1 of 5 patients, whereas myopathic signs and symptoms, generalized seizures, hearing loss, eyelid ptosis, and multiple lipomatosis represented the most common clinical features. Some asymptomatic mutation carriers have also been observed. Myoclonus was more strictly associated with ataxia than generalized seizures in adult 8344A>G subjects. Considering all of the 321 patients so far available, including our dataset and previously published cases, at the mean age of approximately 35 years, the clinical picture was characterized by the following signs/symptoms, in descending order: myoclonus, muscle weakness, ataxia (35%-45% of patients); generalized seizures, hearing loss (25%-34.9%); cognitive impairment, multiple lipomatosis, neuropathy, exercise intolerance (15%-24.9%); and increased creatine kinase levels, ptosis/ophthalmoparesis, optic atrophy, cardiomyopathy, muscle wasting, respiratory impairment, diabetes, muscle pain, tremor, migraine (5%-14.9%).
Conclusions: Our results showed higher clinical heterogeneity than commonly thought. Moreover, MERRF could be better defined as a myoclonic ataxia rather than a myoclonic epilepsy.