Length heteroplasmy in the first hypervariable segment of the human mtDNA control region

Am J Hum Genet. 1995 Aug;57(2):248-56.


The first hypervariable segment of the human mtDNA control region contains a homopolymeric tract of cytosines between nt 16184 and 16193, interrupted at position 16189 by a thymine, according to the Cambridge reference sequence. A variant commonly found in population screening is a T-to-C transition at nt 16189, resulting in an uninterrupted homopolymeric tract. Direct sequencing of individuals with this variant produces a characteristic blurred sequence in nucleotides beyond the tract. Sequencing clones from these individuals revealed that this is caused by high levels of length heteroplasmy in the homopolymeric tract and low levels of length heteroplasmy in the four adenines following the tract. We have developed a rapid method involving densitometry of sequencing gels to quantify the relative proportions of different length variants present in an individual. We have used this to study the proportions of length variants in individuals from three twin pairs and two maternal lineages. While unrelated individuals usually have different proportions of length variants, all maternally related individuals studied have the same proportions, even if they are only distantly related. It is not obvious how identical heteroplasmic profiles are maintained in maternally related individuals, but some possible mechanisms are suggested.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Clone Cells
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Pedigree
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid*
  • Twins


  • DNA, Mitochondrial