Mitochondrial diseases in adults

J Intern Med. 2020 Jun;287(6):592-608. doi: 10.1111/joim.13064.


Mitochondrial medicine is a field that expanded exponentially in the last 30 years. Individually rare, mitochondrial diseases as a whole are probably the most frequent genetic disorder in adults. The complexity of their genotype-phenotype correlation, in terms of penetrance and clinical expressivity, natural history and diagnostic algorithm derives from the dual genetic determination. In fact, in addition to the about 1.500 genes encoding mitochondrial proteins that reside in the nuclear genome (nDNA), we have the 13 proteins encoded by the mitochondrial genome (mtDNA), for which 22 specific tRNAs and 2 rRNAs are also needed. Thus, besides Mendelian genetics, we need to consider all peculiarities of how mtDNA is inherited, maintained and expressed to fully understand the pathogenic mechanisms of these disorders. Yet, from the initial restriction to the narrow field of oxidative phosphorylation dysfunction, the landscape of mitochondrial functions impinging on cellular homeostasis, driving life and death, is impressively enlarged. Finally, from the clinical standpoint, starting from the neuromuscular field, where brain and skeletal muscle were the primary targets of mitochondrial dysfunction as energy-dependent tissues, after three decades virtually any subspecialty of medicine is now involved. We will summarize the key clinical pictures and pathogenic mechanisms of mitochondrial diseases in adults.

Keywords: mitochondria; mitochondrial diseases; mtDNA; neurology; neuromuscular disorders.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • DNA Repair / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Genome, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Humans
  • MELAS Syndrome / diagnosis
  • MELAS Syndrome / genetics
  • Mitochondria / genetics
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / diagnosis
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / genetics*
  • Mutation / genetics


  • DNA, Mitochondrial