Mitochondrial disease in children

J Intern Med. 2020 Jun;287(6):609-633. doi: 10.1111/joim.13054. Epub 2020 Apr 7.


Mitochondrial disease presenting in childhood is characterized by clinical, biochemical and genetic complexity. Some children are affected by canonical syndromes, but the majority have nonclassical multisystemic disease presentations involving virtually any organ in the body. Each child has a unique constellation of clinical features and disease trajectory, leading to enormous challenges in diagnosis and management of these heterogeneous disorders. This review discusses the classical mitochondrial syndromes presenting most frequently in childhood and then presents an organ-based perspective including systems less frequently linked to mitochondrial disease, such as skin and hair abnormalities and immune dysfunction. An approach to diagnosis is then presented, encompassing clinical evaluation and biochemical, neuroimaging and genetic investigations, and emphasizing the problem of phenocopies. The impact of next-generation sequencing is discussed, together with the importance of functional validation of novel genetic variants never previously linked to mitochondrial disease. The review concludes with a brief discussion of currently available and emerging therapies. The field of mitochondrial medicine has made enormous strides in the last 30 years, with approaching 400 different genes across two genomes now linked to primary mitochondrial disease. However, many important questions remain unanswered, including the reasons for tissue specificity and variability of clinical presentation of individuals sharing identical gene defects, and a lack of disease-modifying therapies and biomarkers to monitor disease progression and/or response to treatment.

Keywords: diagnostic approach; differential diagnosis; mitochondrial genetics; next-generation sequencing; phenocopies; phenomics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / genetics
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / diagnosis
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / genetics*
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / pathology
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Phenotype