The expanding clinical spectrum of mitochondrial diseases

Brain Dev. 1993 Jan-Feb;15(1):1-22. doi: 10.1016/0387-7604(93)90002-p.


The mitochondrion is the only extranuclear organelle containing DNA (mtDNA). As such, genetically determined mitochondrial diseases may result from a molecular defect involving the mitochondrial or the nuclear genome. The first is characterized by maternal inheritance and the second by Mendelian inheritance. Ragged-red fibers (RRF) are commonly seen with primary lesions of mtDNA, but this association is not invariant. Conversely, RRF are seldom associated with primary lesions of nuclear DNA. Large-scale rearrangements (deletions and insertions) and point mutations of mtDNA are commonly associated with RRF and lactic acidosis, e.g. Kearns-Sayre syndrome (KSS) (major large-scale rearrangements), Pearson syndrome (large-scale rearrangements), myoclonus epilepsy with RRF (MERRF) (point mutation affecting tRNA(lys) gene), mitochondrial myopathy, lactic acidosis, and stroke-like episodes (MELAS) (two point mutations affecting tRNA(leu)(UUR) gene) and a maternally-inherited myopathy with cardiac involvement (MIMyCa) (point mutation affecting tRNA(leu)(UUR) gene). However, RRF and lactic acidosis are absent in Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON) (one point mutation affecting ND4 gene, two point mutations affecting ND1 gene, and one point mutation affecting the apocytochrome b subunit of complex III), and the condition associated with maternally inherited sensory neuropathy (N), ataxia (A), retinitis pigmentosa (RP), developmental delay, dementia, seizures, and limb weakness (NARP) (point mutation affecting ATPase subunit 6 gene). The point mutations in MELAS, MIMyCa, and MERRF, and the large-scale mtDNA rearrangements in KSS and Pearson syndrome have a broader biochemical impact since these molecular defects involve the translational sequence of mitochondrial protein synthesis. The nuclear defects involving mitochondrial function generally are not associated with RRF. The biochemical classification of mitochondrial diseases principally catalogues these nuclear defects. This classification divides mitochondrial diseases into five categories. Primary and secondary deficiencies of carnitine are examples of a substrate transport defect. A lipid storage myopathy is often present. Disturbances of pyruvate or fatty acid metabolism are examples of substrate utilization defects. Only four defects of the Krebs cycle are known: fumarase deficiency, dihydrolipoyl dehydrogenase deficiency, alpha-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase deficiency, and combined defects of muscle succinate dehydrogenase and aconitase. Luft disease is the singular example of a defect in oxidation-phosphorylation coupling. Defects of respiratory chain function are manifold. Two clinical syndromes predominate, one involving limb weakness, and the other primarily affecting brain function. Leigh syndrome may result from different enzyme defects, most notably pyruvate dehydrogenase complex deficiency, cytochrome c oxidase deficiency, complex I deficiency, and complex V deficiency associated with the recently described NARP point mutation. A new group of mitochondrial diseases has emerged.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Mitochondrial Encephalomyopathies / genetics
  • Mitochondrial Encephalomyopathies / metabolism
  • Mitochondrial Encephalomyopathies / physiopathology*