Homopolymeric tract heteroplasmy in mtDNA from tissues and single oocytes: support for a genetic bottleneck

Am J Hum Genet. 1997 Feb;60(2):408-16.


While mtDNA polymorphisms at single base positions are common, the overwhelming majority of the mitochondrial genomes within a single individual are usually identical. When there is a point-mutation difference between a mother and her offspring, there may be a complete switching of mtDNA type within a single generation. It is generally assumed that there is a genetic bottleneck whereby a single or small number of founder mtDNA(s) populate the organism, but it is not known at which stages the restriction/amplification of mtDNA subtype(s) occur, and this uncertainty impedes antenatal diagnosis for mtDNA disorders. Length polymorphisms in homopolymeric tracts have been demonstrated in the large noncoding region of mtDNA. We have developed a new method, T-PCR (trimmed PCR), to quantitate heteroplasmy for two of these tracts (D310 and D16189). D310 variation is sufficient to indicate clonal origins of tissues and single oocytes. Tissues from normal individuals often possessed more than one length variant (heteroplasmy). However, there was no difference in the pattern of the length variants between somatic tissues in any control individual when bulk samples were taken. Oocytes from normal women undergoing in vitro fertilization were frequently heteroplasmic for length variants, and in two cases the modal length of the D310 tract differed in individual oocytes from the same woman. These data suggest that a restriction/amplification event, which we attribute to clonal expansion of founder mtDNA(s), has occurred by the time oocytes are mature, although further segregation may occur at a later stage. In contrast to controls, the length distribution of the D310 tract varied between tissues in a patient with heteroplasmic mtDNA rearrangements, suggesting that these mutants influence segregation. These findings have important implications for the genetic counselling of patients with pathogenic mtDNA mutations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / chemistry
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • MELAS Syndrome / genetics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Oocytes / chemistry*
  • Point Mutation*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*


  • DNA, Mitochondrial