Ancestral allele of DNA polymerase gamma modifies antiviral tolerance

Nature. 2024 Apr;628(8009):844-853. doi: 10.1038/s41586-024-07260-z. Epub 2024 Apr 3.


Mitochondria are critical modulators of antiviral tolerance through the release of mitochondrial RNA and DNA (mtDNA and mtRNA) fragments into the cytoplasm after infection, activating virus sensors and type-I interferon (IFN-I) response1-4. The relevance of these mechanisms for mitochondrial diseases remains understudied. Here we investigated mitochondrial recessive ataxia syndrome (MIRAS), which is caused by a common European founder mutation in DNA polymerase gamma (POLG1)5. Patients homozygous for the MIRAS variant p.W748S show exceptionally variable ages of onset and symptoms5, indicating that unknown modifying factors contribute to disease manifestation. We report that the mtDNA replicase POLG1 has a role in antiviral defence mechanisms to double-stranded DNA and positive-strand RNA virus infections (HSV-1, TBEV and SARS-CoV-2), and its p.W748S variant dampens innate immune responses. Our patient and knock-in mouse data show that p.W748S compromises mtDNA replisome stability, causing mtDNA depletion, aggravated by virus infection. Low mtDNA and mtRNA release into the cytoplasm and a slow IFN response in MIRAS offer viruses an early replicative advantage, leading to an augmented pro-inflammatory response, a subacute loss of GABAergic neurons and liver inflammation and necrosis. A population databank of around 300,000 Finnish individuals6 demonstrates enrichment of immunodeficient traits in carriers of the POLG1 p.W748S mutation. Our evidence suggests that POLG1 defects compromise antiviral tolerance, triggering epilepsy and liver disease. The finding has important implications for the mitochondrial disease spectrum, including epilepsy, ataxia and parkinsonism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age of Onset
  • Alleles*
  • Animals
  • COVID-19 / genetics
  • COVID-19 / immunology
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • DNA Polymerase gamma* / genetics
  • DNA Polymerase gamma* / immunology
  • DNA Polymerase gamma* / metabolism
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / immunology
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / metabolism
  • Encephalitis Viruses, Tick-Borne* / immunology
  • Encephalitis, Tick-Borne / genetics
  • Encephalitis, Tick-Borne / immunology
  • Encephalitis, Tick-Borne / virology
  • Female
  • Founder Effect
  • Gene Knock-In Techniques
  • Herpes Simplex / genetics
  • Herpes Simplex / immunology
  • Herpes Simplex / virology
  • Herpesvirus 1, Human* / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance* / genetics
  • Immune Tolerance* / immunology
  • Immunity, Innate / genetics
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology
  • Interferon Type I / immunology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / enzymology
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / genetics
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / immunology
  • Mutation
  • RNA, Mitochondrial / immunology
  • RNA, Mitochondrial / metabolism
  • SARS-CoV-2* / immunology


  • DNA Polymerase gamma
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Interferon Type I
  • POLG protein, human
  • RNA, Mitochondrial
  • Polg protein, mouse

Supplementary concepts

  • Ataxia Neuropathy Spectrum