A novel MT-CO2 variant causing cerebellar ataxia and neuropathy: The role of muscle biopsy in diagnosis and defining pathogenicity

Neuromuscul Disord. 2021 Nov;31(11):1186-1193. doi: 10.1016/j.nmd.2021.05.014. Epub 2021 Jun 4.


Pathogenic variants in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) are associated with significant clinical heterogeneity with neuromuscular involvement commonly reported. Non-syndromic presentations of mtDNA disease continue to pose a diagnostic challenge and with genomic testing still necessitating a muscle biopsy in many cases. Here we describe an adult patient who presented with progressive ataxia, neuropathy and exercise intolerance in whom the application of numerous Mendelian gene panels had failed to make a genetic diagnosis. Muscle biopsy revealed characteristic mitochondrial pathology (cytochrome c oxidase deficient, ragged-red fibers) prompting a thorough investigation of the mitochondrial genome. Two heteroplasmic MT-CO2 gene variants (NC_012920.1: m.7887G>A and m.8250G>A) were identified, necessitating single fiber segregation and familial studies - including the biopsy of the patient's clinically-unaffected mother - to demonstrate pathogenicity of the novel m.7887G>A p.(Gly101Asp) variant and establishing this as the cause of the mitochondrial biochemical defects and clinical presentation. In the era of high throughput whole exome and genome sequencing, muscle biopsy remains a key investigation in the diagnosis of patients with non-syndromic presentations of adult-onset mitochondrial disease and fully defining the pathogenicity of novel mtDNA variants.

Keywords: Mitochondrial DNA; Muscle biopsy; Segregation study.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Biopsy
  • Cerebellar Ataxia / diagnosis*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Exome Sequencing
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology*
  • Mutation / genetics*


  • DNA, Mitochondrial

Supplementary concepts

  • Ataxia Neuropathy Spectrum