Antigen receptor stimulation induces purifying selection against pathogenic mitochondrial tRNA mutations

JCI Insight. 2023 Sep 8;8(17):e167656. doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.167656.


Pathogenic mutations in mitochondrial (mt) tRNA genes that compromise oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) exhibit heteroplasmy and cause a range of multisyndromic conditions. Although mitochondrial disease patients are known to suffer from abnormal immune responses, how heteroplasmic mtDNA mutations affect the immune system at the molecular level is largely unknown. Here, in mice carrying pathogenic C5024T in mt-tRNAAla and in patients with mitochondrial encephalomyopathy, lactic acidosis, stroke-like episodes (MELAS) syndrome carrying A3243G in mt-tRNALeu, we found memory T and B cells to have lower pathogenic mtDNA mutation burdens than their antigen-inexperienced naive counterparts, including after vaccination. Pathogenic burden reduction was less pronounced in myeloid compared with lymphoid lineages, despite C5024T compromising macrophage OXPHOS capacity. Rapid dilution of the C5024T mutation in T and B cell cultures could be induced by antigen receptor-triggered proliferation and was accelerated by metabolic stress conditions. Furthermore, we found C5024T to dysregulate CD8+ T cell metabolic remodeling and IFN-γ production after activation. Together, our data illustrate that the generation of memory lymphocytes shapes the mtDNA landscape, wherein pathogenic variants dysregulate the immune response.

Keywords: Adaptive immunity; Immunology; Metabolism; Mitochondria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acidosis, Lactic*
  • Animals
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Mice
  • Mutation
  • RNA, Transfer / genetics
  • Receptors, Antigen*


  • Receptors, Antigen
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • RNA, Transfer

Grants and funding

WAF2017, awarded to JR