Genetic Alterations in Mitochondrial DNA Are Complementary to Nuclear DNA Mutations in Pheochromocytomas

Cancers (Basel). 2022 Jan 6;14(2):269. doi: 10.3390/cancers14020269.


Background: Somatic mutations, copy-number variations, and genome instability of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) have been reported in different types of cancers and are suggested to play important roles in cancer development and metastasis. However, there is scarce information about pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas (PCCs/PGLs) formation.

Material: To determine the potential roles of mtDNA alterations in sporadic PCCs/PGLs, we analyzed a panel of 26 nuclear susceptibility genes and the entire mtDNA sequence of seventy-seven human tumors, using next-generation sequencing, and compared the results with normal adrenal medulla tissues. We also performed an analysis of copy-number alterations, large mtDNA deletion, and gene and protein expression.

Results: Our results revealed that 53.2% of the tumors harbor a mutation in at least one of the targeted susceptibility genes, and 16.9% harbor complementary mitochondrial mutations. More than 50% of the mitochondrial mutations were novel and predicted pathogenic, affecting mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation. Large deletions were found in 26% of tumors, and depletion of mtDNA occurred in more than 87% of PCCs/PGLs. The reduction of the mitochondrial number was accompanied by a reduced expression of the regulators that promote mitochondrial biogenesis (PCG1α, NRF1, and TFAM). Further, P62 and LC3a gene expression suggested increased mitophagy, which is linked to mitochondrial dysfunction.

Conclusion: The pathogenic role of these finding remains to be shown, but we suggest a complementarity and a potential contributing role in PCCs/PGLs tumorigenesis.

Keywords: genetic alterations; mitochondrial DNA; pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas.