Loss of the smallest subunit of cytochrome c oxidase, COX8A, causes Leigh-like syndrome and epilepsy

Brain. 2016 Feb;139(Pt 2):338-45. doi: 10.1093/brain/awv357. Epub 2015 Dec 17.


Isolated cytochrome c oxidase (complex IV) deficiency is one of the most frequent respiratory chain defects in humans and is usually caused by mutations in proteins required for assembly of the complex. Mutations in nuclear-encoded structural subunits are very rare. In a patient with Leigh-like syndrome presenting with leukodystrophy and severe epilepsy, we identified a homozygous splice site mutation in COX8A, which codes for the ubiquitously expressed isoform of subunit VIII, the smallest nuclear-encoded subunit of complex IV. The mutation, affecting the last nucleotide of intron 1, leads to aberrant splicing, a frame-shift in the highly conserved exon 2, and decreased amount of the COX8A transcript. The loss of the wild-type COX8A protein severely impairs the stability of the entire cytochrome c oxidase enzyme complex and manifests in isolated complex IV deficiency in skeletal muscle and fibroblasts, similar to the frequent c.845_846delCT mutation in the assembly factor SURF1 gene. Stability and activity of complex IV could be rescued in the patient's fibroblasts by lentiviral expression of wild-type COX8A. Our findings demonstrate that COX8A is indispensable for function of human complex IV and its mutation causes human disease.

Keywords: Leigh-like syndrome; cytochrome c oxidase; mitochondrial disease; subunit COX VIIIa.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / genetics*
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / physiology
  • Epilepsy / complications
  • Epilepsy / diagnosis*
  • Epilepsy / genetics*
  • Fatal Outcome
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leigh Disease / complications
  • Leigh Disease / diagnosis*
  • Leigh Disease / genetics*
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Protein Subunits / genetics*


  • Protein Subunits
  • COX8C protein, human
  • Electron Transport Complex IV