Background: There is a lack of mechanism-driven, clinically relevant biomarkers in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Mitochondrial dysfunction, a proposed disease mechanism in COPD, is associated with the release of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), but plasma cell-free mtDNA has not been previously examined prospectively for associations with clinical COPD measures.
Methods: P-mtDNA, defined as copy number of mitochondrially-encoded NADH dehydrogenase-1 (MT-ND1) gene, was measured by real-time quantitative PCR in 700 plasma samples from participants enrolled in the Subpopulations and Intermediate Outcome Measures in COPD Study (SPIROMICS) cohort. Associations between p-mtDNA and clinical disease parameters were examined, adjusting for age, sex, smoking status, and for informative loss to follow-up.
Results: P-mtDNA levels were higher in participants with mild or moderate COPD, compared to smokers without airflow obstruction, and to participants with severe COPD. Baseline increased p-mtDNA levels were associated with better CAT scores in female smokers without airflow obstruction and female participants with mild or moderate COPD on 1-year follow-up, but worse 6MWD in females with severe COPD. Higher p-mtDNA levels were associated with better 6MWD in male participants with severe COPD. These associations were no longer significant after adjusting for informative loss to follow-up.
Conclusion: In this study, p-mtDNA levels associated with baseline COPD status but not future changes in clinical COPD measures after accounting for informative loss to follow-up. To better characterize mitochondrial dysfunction as a potential COPD endotype, these results should be confirmed and validated in future studies.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01969344 (SPIROMICS).
Keywords: COPD; Mitochondrial dysfunction; SPIROMICS; mtDNA.