Background/aims: Liver failure in infancy can result from several disorders of the mitochondrial respiratory chain. In some patients, levels of mitochondrial DNA are markedly reduced, a phenomenon referred to as mitochondrial DNA depletion. To facilitate diagnosis of this condition, we have reviewed the clinical and pathological features in five patients with mitochondrial DNA depletion.
Methods: Cases were identified by preparing Southern blots of DNA from muscle and liver, hybridising with appropriate probes and quantifying mitochondrial DNA relative to nuclear DNA.
Results: All our patients with mitochondrial DNA depletion died of liver failure. Other problems included hypotonia, hypoglycaemia, neurological abnormalities (including Leigh syndrome) and cataracts. Liver histology showed geographic areas of fatty change, bile duct proliferation, collapse of liver architecture and fibrosis; some cells showed decreased cytochrome oxidase activity. Muscle from three patients showed mitochondrial proliferation, with loss of cytochrome oxidase activity in some fibres but not in others; in these cases, muscle mitochondrial DNA levels were less than 5% of the median control value. The remaining two patients (from a single pedigree) had normal muscle histology and histochemistry associated with less severe depletion of mitochondrial DNA in muscle.
Conclusions: Liver failure is common in patients with mitochondrial DNA depletion. Associated clinical features often include neuromuscular disease. Liver and muscle histology can be helpful in making the diagnosis. Mitochondrial DNA levels should be measured whenever liver failure is thought to have resulted from respiratory chain disease.