Understanding Mitochondrial Polymorphisms in Cancer

Cancer Res. 2017 Nov 15;77(22):6051-6059. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-17-1939. Epub 2017 Nov 2.


Alterations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) were once thought to be predominantly innocuous to cell growth. Recent evidence suggests that mtDNA undergo naturally occurring alterations, including mutations and polymorphisms, which profoundly affect the cells in which they appear and contribute to a variety of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Furthermore, interplay between mtDNA and nuclear DNA has been found in cancer cells, necessitating consideration of these complex interactions for future studies of cancer mutations and polymorphisms. In this issue of Cancer Research, Vivian and colleagues utilize a unique mouse model, called Mitochondrial Nuclear eXchange mice, that contain the nuclear DNA from one inbred mouse strain, and the mtDNA from a different inbred mouse strain to examine the genome-wide nuclear DNA methylation and gene expression patterns of brain tissue. Results demonstrated there were alterations in nuclear DNA expression and DNA methylation driven by mtDNA. These alterations may impact disease pathogenesis. In light of these results, in this review, we highlight alterations in mtDNA, with a specific focus on polymorphisms associated with cancer susceptibility and/or prognosis, mtDNA as cancer biomarkers, and considerations for investigating the role of mtDNA in cancer progression for future studies. Cancer Res; 77(22); 6051-9. ©2017 AACR.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / genetics*
  • Mutation
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Mitochondrial Proteins