Diagnosing Mitochondrial Disorders Remains Challenging in the Omics Era

Neurol Genet. 2021 May 25;7(3):e597. doi: 10.1212/NXG.0000000000000597. eCollection 2021 Jun.


Objective: We hypothesized that novel investigative pathways are needed to decrease diagnostic odysseys in pediatric mitochondrial disease and sought to determine the utility of clinical exome sequencing in a large cohort with suspected mitochondrial disease and to explore whether any of the traditional indicators of mitochondrial disease predict a confirmed genetic diagnosis.

Methods: We investigated a cohort of 85 pediatric patients using clinical exome sequencing and compared the results with the outcome of traditional diagnostic tests, including biochemical testing of routine parameters (lactate, alanine, and proline), neuroimaging, and muscle biopsy with histology and respiratory chain enzyme activity studies.

Results: We established a genetic diagnosis in 36.5% of the cohort and report 20 novel disease-causing variants (1 mitochondrial DNA). Counterintuitively, routine biochemical markers were more predictive of mitochondrial disease than more invasive and elaborate muscle studies.

Conclusions: We propose using biochemical markers to support the clinical suspicion of mitochondrial disease and then apply first-line clinical exome sequencing to identify a definite diagnosis. Muscle biopsy studies should only be used in clinically urgent situations or to confirm an inconclusive genetic result.

Classification of evidence: This is a Class II diagnostic accuracy study showing that the combination of CSF and plasma biochemical tests plus neuroimaging could predict the presence or absence of exome sequencing confirmed mitochondrial disorders.