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1.  Mitochondrial encephalomyopathy and retinoblastoma explained by compound heterozygosity of SUCLA2 point mutation and 13q14 deletion 
Mutations in SUCLA2, encoding the ß-subunit of succinyl-CoA synthetase of Krebs cycle, are one cause of mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. Patients have been reported to have severe progressive childhood-onset encephalomyopathy, and methylmalonic aciduria, often leading to death in childhood. We studied two families, with children manifesting with slowly progressive mitochondrial encephalomyopathy, hearing impairment and transient methylmalonic aciduria, without mtDNA depletion. The other family also showed dominant inheritance of bilateral retinoblastoma, which coexisted with mitochondrial encephalomyopathy in one patient. We found a variant in SUCLA2 leading to Asp333Gly change, homozygous in one patient and compound heterozygous in one. The latter patient also carried a deletion of 13q14 of the other allele, discovered with molecular karyotyping. The deletion spanned both SUCLA2 and RB1 gene regions, leading to manifestation of both mitochondrial disease and retinoblastoma. We made a homology model for human succinyl-CoA synthetase and used it for structure–function analysis of all reported pathogenic mutations in SUCLA2. On the basis of our model, all previously described mutations were predicted to result in decreased amounts of incorrectly assembled protein or disruption of ADP phosphorylation, explaining the severe early lethal manifestations. However, the Asp333Gly change was predicted to reduce the activity of the otherwise functional enzyme. On the basis of our findings, SUCLA2 mutations should be analyzed in patients with slowly progressive encephalomyopathy, even in the absence of methylmalonic aciduria or mitochondrial DNA depletion. In addition, an encephalomyopathy in a patient with retinoblastoma suggests mutations affecting SUCLA2.
PMCID: PMC4326715  PMID: 24986829
2.  Mitochondrial roles in disease: a box full of surprises 
EMBO Molecular Medicine  2015;7(10):1245-1247.
This commentary inaugurates a new review series in EMBO Molecular Medicine focused on mitochondrial diseases. This area of medicine, which actually encompasses most disease areas, has long since come of age and is now positioned for the next leap toward the development of effective therapies. The aims of the review series are to offer a comprehensive overview of this exciting area of medicine and research and to provide timely discussions for clinicians and investigators on the new discoveries elucidating how mitochondrial metabolism contributes to an expanding group of complex, heterogeneous, and difficult-to-tackle diseases.
PMCID: PMC4604678  PMID: 26194910
3.  mtDNA Mutagenesis Disrupts Pluripotent Stem Cell Function by Altering Redox Signaling 
Cell Reports  2015;11(10):1614-1624.
mtDNA mutagenesis in somatic stem cells leads to their dysfunction and to progeria in mouse. The mechanism was proposed to involve modification of reactive oxygen species (ROS)/redox signaling. We studied the effect of mtDNA mutagenesis on reprogramming and stemness of pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) and show that PSCs select against specific mtDNA mutations, mimicking germline and promoting mtDNA integrity despite their glycolytic metabolism. Furthermore, mtDNA mutagenesis is associated with an increase in mitochondrial H2O2, reduced PSC reprogramming efficiency, and self-renewal. Mitochondria-targeted ubiquinone, MitoQ, and N-acetyl-L-cysteine efficiently rescued these defects, indicating that both reprogramming efficiency and stemness are modified by mitochondrial ROS. The redox sensitivity, however, rendered PSCs and especially neural stem cells sensitive to MitoQ toxicity. Our results imply that stem cell compartment warrants special attention when the safety of new antioxidants is assessed and point to an essential role for mitochondrial redox signaling in maintaining normal stem cell function.
Graphical Abstract
•mtDNA mutagenesis affects reprogramming and stemness through redox signaling•Altered redox signaling can be pharmacologically rescued by NAC or MitoQ•Stem cells are sensitive to mitochondria-targeted ubiquinone toxicity•Pluripotent stem cells show active selection against mtDNA mutations
Hämäläinen et al. show that stem cell homeostasis and reprogramming efficiency are sensitive to mitochondrial mutagenesis and mitochondria-derived oxygen radicals, which decrease stemness. The stem cell sensitivity to redox signaling also makes them sensitive targets for antioxidants, which, if targeted to mitochondria, show dose-dependent benefits or toxicity.
PMCID: PMC4509707  PMID: 26027936
4.  Overexpression of TFAM or Twinkle Increases mtDNA Copy Number and Facilitates Cardioprotection Associated with Limited Mitochondrial Oxidative Stress 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(3):e0119687.
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) copy number decreases in animal and human heart failure (HF), yet its role in cardiomyocytes remains to be elucidated. Thus, we investigated the cardioprotective function of increased mtDNA copy number resulting from the overexpression of human transcription factor A of mitochondria (TFAM) or Twinkle helicase in volume overload (VO)-induced HF.
Methods and Results
Two strains of transgenic (TG) mice, one overexpressing TFAM and the other overexpressing Twinkle helicase, exhibit an approximately 2-fold equivalent increase in mtDNA copy number in heart. These TG mice display similar attenuations in eccentric hypertrophy and improved cardiac function compared to wild-type (WT) mice without any deterioration of mitochondrial enzymatic activities in response to VO, which was accompanied by a reduction in matrix-metalloproteinase (MMP) activity and reactive oxygen species after 8 weeks of VO. Moreover, acute VO-induced MMP-2 and MMP-9 upregulation was also suppressed at 24 h in both TG mice. In isolated rat cardiomyocytes, mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (mitoROS) upregulated MMP-2 and MMP-9 expression, and human TFAM (hTFAM) overexpression suppressed mitoROS and their upregulation. Additionally, mitoROS were equally suppressed in H9c2 rat cardiomyoblasts that overexpress hTFAM or rat Twinkle, both of which exhibit increased mtDNA copy number. Furthermore, mitoROS and mitochondrial protein oxidation from both TG mice were suppressed compared to WT mice.
The overexpression of TFAM or Twinkle results in increased mtDNA copy number and facilitates cardioprotection associated with limited mitochondrial oxidative stress. Our findings suggest that increasing mtDNA copy number could be a useful therapeutic strategy to target mitoROS in HF.
PMCID: PMC4379048  PMID: 25822152
5.  Mitochondrial EFTs defects in juvenile-onset Leigh disease, ataxia, neuropathy, and optic atrophy 
Neurology  2014;83(8):743-751.
We report novel defects of mitochondrial translation elongation factor Ts (EFTs), with high carrier frequency in Finland and expand the manifestations of this disease group from infantile cardiomyopathy to juvenile neuropathy/encephalopathy disorders.
DNA analysis, whole-exome analysis, protein biochemistry, and protein modeling.
We used whole-exome sequencing to find the genetic cause of infantile-onset mitochondrial cardiomyopathy, progressing to juvenile-onset Leigh syndrome, neuropathy, and optic atrophy in 2 siblings. We found novel compound heterozygous mutations, c.944G>A [p.C315Y] and c.856C>T [p.Q286X], in the TSFM gene encoding mitochondrial EFTs. The same p.Q286X variant was found as compound heterozygous with a splice site change in a patient from a second family, with juvenile-onset optic atrophy, peripheral neuropathy, and ataxia. Our molecular modeling predicted the coding-region mutations to cause protein instability, which was experimentally confirmed in cultured patient cells, with mitochondrial translation defect and lacking EFTs. Only a single TSFM mutation has been previously described in different populations, leading to an infantile fatal multisystem disorder with cardiomyopathy. Sequence data from 35,000 Finnish population controls indicated that the heterozygous carrier frequency of p.Q286X change was exceptionally high in Finland, 1:80, but no homozygotes were found in the population, in our mitochondrial disease patient collection, or in an intrauterine fetal death material, suggesting early developmental lethality of the homozygotes.
We show that in addition to early-onset cardiomyopathy, TSFM mutations should be considered in childhood and juvenile encephalopathies with optic and/or peripheral neuropathy, ataxia, or Leigh disease.
PMCID: PMC4150129  PMID: 25037205
6.  Structural modeling of tissue-specific mitochondrial alanyl-tRNA synthetase (AARS2) defects predicts differential effects on aminoacylation 
The accuracy of mitochondrial protein synthesis is dependent on the coordinated action of nuclear-encoded mitochondrial aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (mtARSs) and the mitochondrial DNA-encoded tRNAs. The recent advances in whole-exome sequencing have revealed the importance of the mtARS proteins for mitochondrial pathophysiology since nearly every nuclear gene for mtARS (out of 19) is now recognized as a disease gene for mitochondrial disease. Typically, defects in each mtARS have been identified in one tissue-specific disease, most commonly affecting the brain, or in one syndrome. However, mutations in the AARS2 gene for mitochondrial alanyl-tRNA synthetase (mtAlaRS) have been reported both in patients with infantile-onset cardiomyopathy and in patients with childhood to adulthood-onset leukoencephalopathy. We present here an investigation of the effects of the described mutations on the structure of the synthetase, in an effort to understand the tissue-specific outcomes of the different mutations. The mtAlaRS differs from the other mtARSs because in addition to the aminoacylation domain, it has a conserved editing domain for deacylating tRNAs that have been mischarged with incorrect amino acids. We show that the cardiomyopathy phenotype results from a single allele, causing an amino acid change R592W in the editing domain of AARS2, whereas the leukodystrophy mutations are located in other domains of the synthetase. Nevertheless, our structural analysis predicts that all mutations reduce the aminoacylation activity of the synthetase, because all mtAlaRS domains contribute to tRNA binding for aminoacylation. According to our model, the cardiomyopathy mutations severely compromise aminoacylation whereas partial activity is retained by the mutation combinations found in the leukodystrophy patients. These predictions provide a hypothesis for the molecular basis of the distinct tissue-specific phenotypic outcomes.
PMCID: PMC4319469  PMID: 25705216
mitochondrial disease; aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases; alanyl-tRNA synthetase; tissue-specificity; structural modeling
7.  Effective treatment of mitochondrial myopathy by nicotinamide riboside, a vitamin B3 
EMBO Molecular Medicine  2014;6(6):721-731.
Nutrient availability is the major regulator of life and reproduction, and a complex cellular signaling network has evolved to adapt organisms to fasting. These sensor pathways monitor cellular energy metabolism, especially mitochondrial ATP production and NAD+/NADH ratio, as major signals for nutritional state. We hypothesized that these signals would be modified by mitochondrial respiratory chain disease, because of inefficient NADH utilization and ATP production. Oral administration of nicotinamide riboside (NR), a vitamin B3 and NAD+ precursor, was previously shown to boost NAD+ levels in mice and to induce mitochondrial biogenesis. Here, we treated mitochondrial myopathy mice with NR. This vitamin effectively delayed early- and late-stage disease progression, by robustly inducing mitochondrial biogenesis in skeletal muscle and brown adipose tissue, preventing mitochondrial ultrastructure abnormalities and mtDNA deletion formation. NR further stimulated mitochondrial unfolded protein response, suggesting its protective role in mitochondrial disease. These results indicate that NR and strategies boosting NAD+ levels are a promising treatment strategy for mitochondrial myopathy.
PMCID: PMC4203351  PMID: 24711540
mitochondrial myopathy; NAD+; nicotinamide riboside; treatment; unfolded protein response
8.  Capsid-Modified Adenoviral Vectors for Improved Muscle-Directed Gene Therapy 
Human Gene Therapy  2012;23(10):1065-1070.
Skeletal muscle represents an attractive target tissue for adenoviral gene therapy to treat muscle disorders and as a production platform for systemic expression of therapeutic proteins. However, adenovirus serotype 5 vectors do not efficiently transduce adult muscle tissue. Here we evaluated whether capsid modifications on adenoviral vectors could improve transduction in mature murine muscle tissue. First-generation and helper-dependent serotype 5 adenoviral vectors featuring the serotype 3 knob (5/3) showed significantly increased transduction of skeletal muscle after intramuscular injection in adult mice. Furthermore, we showed that full-length dystrophin could be more efficiently transferred to muscles of mdx mice using a 5/3-modified helper-dependent adenoviral vector. In contrast to first-generation vectors, helper-dependent adenoviral vectors mediated stable marker gene expression for at least 1 year after intramuscular injection. In conclusion, 5/3 capsid-modified helper-dependent adenoviral vectors show enhanced transduction in adult murine muscle tissue and mediate long-term gene expression, suggesting the suitability of these vectors for muscle-directed gene therapy.
Guse and colleagues evaluate whether capsid modification of adenoviral vectors can improve transduction in mature murine muscle tissue. They show that full-length dystrophin can be efficiently transferred to muscles of mdx mice, using a serotype 5 adenoviral vector featuring the serotype 3 knob (5/3 vector); moreover, they show that this vector can mediate stable gene expression of luciferase in B6 mice for at least 1 year.
PMCID: PMC3472516  PMID: 22888960
9.  The Overexpression of Twinkle Helicase Ameliorates the Progression of Cardiac Fibrosis and Heart Failure in Pressure Overload Model in Mice 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e67642.
Myocardial mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) copy number decreases in heart failure. In post-myocardial infarction mice, increasing mtDNA copy number by overexpressing mitochondrial transcription factor attenuates mtDNA deficiency and ameliorates pathological remodeling thereby markedly improving survival. However, the functional significance of increased mtDNA copy number in hypertensive heart disease remains unknown. We addressed this question using transgenic mice that overexpress Twinkle helicase (Twinkle; Tg), the mtDNA helicase, and examined whether Twinkle overexpression protects the heart from left ventricular (LV) remodeling and failure after pressure overload created by transverse aortic constriction (TAC). Twinkle overexpression increased mtDNA copy number by 2.2±0.1-fold. Heart weight, LV diastolic volume and wall thickness were comparable between Tg and wild type littermates (WT) at 28 days after TAC operation. LV end-diastolic pressure increased in WT after TAC (8.6±2.8 mmHg), and this increase was attenuated in Tg (4.6±2.6 mmHg). Impaired LV fractional shortening after TAC operation was also suppressed in Tg, as measured by echocardiography (WT: 16.2±7.2% vs Tg: 20.7±6.2%). These LV functional improvements were accompanied by a decrease in interstitial fibrosis (WT: 10.6±1.1% vs Tg: 3.0±0.6%). In in vitro studies, overexpressing Twinkle using an adenovirus vector in cultured cardiac fibroblasts significantly suppressed mRNA of collagen 1a, collagen 3a and connective tissue growth factor, and angiotensin II-induced transforming growth factor β1 expression. The findings suggest that Twinkle overexpression prevents LV function deterioration. In conclusion, Twinkle overexpression increases mtDNA copy number and ameliorates the progression of LV fibrosis and heart failure in a mouse pressure overload model. Increasing mtDNA copy number by Twinkle overexpression could be a novel therapeutic strategy for hypertensive heart disease.
PMCID: PMC3695923  PMID: 23840758
10.  Comparison of solution-based exome capture methods for next generation sequencing 
Genome Biology  2011;12(9):R94.
Techniques enabling targeted re-sequencing of the protein coding sequences of the human genome on next generation sequencing instruments are of great interest. We conducted a systematic comparison of the solution-based exome capture kits provided by Agilent and Roche NimbleGen. A control DNA sample was captured with all four capture methods and prepared for Illumina GAII sequencing. Sequence data from additional samples prepared with the same protocols were also used in the comparison.
We developed a bioinformatics pipeline for quality control, short read alignment, variant identification and annotation of the sequence data. In our analysis, a larger percentage of the high quality reads from the NimbleGen captures than from the Agilent captures aligned to the capture target regions. High GC content of the target sequence was associated with poor capture success in all exome enrichment methods. Comparison of mean allele balances for heterozygous variants indicated a tendency to have more reference bases than variant bases in the heterozygous variant positions within the target regions in all methods. There was virtually no difference in the genotype concordance compared to genotypes derived from SNP arrays. A minimum of 11× coverage was required to make a heterozygote genotype call with 99% accuracy when compared to common SNPs on genome-wide association arrays.
Libraries captured with NimbleGen kits aligned more accurately to the target regions. The updated NimbleGen kit most efficiently covered the exome with a minimum coverage of 20×, yet none of the kits captured all the Consensus Coding Sequence annotated exons.
PMCID: PMC3308057  PMID: 21955854
11.  Clustering of Alpers disease mutations and catalytic defects in biochemical variants reveal new features of molecular mechanism of the human mitochondrial replicase, Pol γ 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;39(21):9072-9084.
Mutations in Pol γ represent a major cause of human mitochondrial diseases, especially those affecting the nervous system in adults and in children. Recessive mutations in Pol γ represent nearly half of those reported to date, and they are nearly uniformly distributed along the length of the POLG1 gene (Human DNA Polymerase gamma Mutation Database); the majority of them are linked to the most severe form of POLG syndrome, Alpers–Huttenlocher syndrome. In this report, we assess the structure–function relationships for recessive disease mutations by reviewing existing biochemical data on site-directed mutagenesis of the human, Drosophila and yeast Pol γs, and their homologs from the family A DNA polymerase group. We do so in the context of a molecular model of Pol γ in complex with primer–template DNA, which we have developed based upon the recently solved crystal structure of the apoenzyme form. We present evidence that recessive mutations cluster within five distinct functional modules in the catalytic core of Pol γ. Our results suggest that cluster prediction can be used as a diagnosis-supporting tool to evaluate the pathogenic role of new Pol γ variants.
PMCID: PMC3241644  PMID: 21824913
12.  POLG1 polyglutamine tract variants associated with Parkinson’s disease 
Neuroscience letters  2010;477(1):1-5.
A possible role of allelic variation of the mitochondrial DNA polymerase gamma (POLG1) gene in Parkinson’s disease (PD) has been suggested. First, POLG1 missense mutations have been found in patients with familial parkinsonism and mitochondrial myopathy. Second, increased frequency of rare alleles of the POLG1 CAG-repeat (poly-Q) has been found in Finnish idiopathic apparently sporadic PD patients, but conflicting reports exist. The POLG1 poly-Q exhibits one major allele with 10 repeats (10Q, frequency ≥80%) and several less common alleles such as 11Q (frequency 6-9%), 6Q-9Q and 12Q-14Q (frequencies <4%). It is not known, whether the poly-Q variation modulates POLG1 function. Here we sequenced the poly-Q in 641 North American Caucasian PD patients and 292 controls. Caucasian literature controls were also used. Normal allele was defined either as 10/11Q or as 10Q according to previous literature. The frequency of the non-10/11Q alleles in cases was not significantly different from the controls. Variant alleles defined as non-10Q were significantly increased in the PD patients compared to the North American controls (17.6% vs. 12.3 %, p=0.004) as well as compared to the larger set of 897 controls (17.6% vs. 13.2%, p=0.0007). These results suggest that POLG1 poly-Q alleles other than the conserved 10Q allele may increase susceptibility to PD. This finding may be attributable to a beneficial function of the 10Q repeat protein or linkage disequilibrium between the 10Q allele and another variation within or close to POLG1. Other large case-control studies and analyses on functional differences of POLG1 poly-Q variants are warranted.
PMCID: PMC2905783  PMID: 20399836
Polymerase gamma; Trinucleotide repeat; Polyglutamine; Parkinson’s disease; Genetic susceptibility; POLG1
13.  Functional analysis of H. sapiens DNA polymerase γ spacer mutation W748S with and without common variant E1143G 
Biochimica et biophysica acta  2010;1802(6):545-551.
Mitochondrial DNA polymerase, POLG, is the sole DNA polymerase found in animal mitochondria. In humans, POLGα W748S in cis with an E1143G mutation has been linked to a new type of recessive ataxia, MIRAS, which is the most common inherited ataxia in Finland. We investigated the biochemical phenotypes of the W748S amino acid change, using recombinant human POLG. We measured processive and non-processive DNA polymerase activity, DNA binding affinity, enzyme processivity, and subunit interaction with recombinant POLGβ. In addition, we studied the effects of the W748S and E1143G mutations in primary human cell cultures using retroviral transduction. Here, we examined cell viability, mitochondrial DNA copy number, and products of mitochondrial translation. Our results indicate that the W748S mutant POLGα does not exhibit a clear biochemical phenotype, making it indistinguishable from wild type POLGα and as such, fail to replicate previously published results. Furthermore, results from the cell models were concurrent with the findings from patients, and support our biochemical findings.
PMCID: PMC2860656  PMID: 20153822
DNA polymerase γ; POLG; POLG1; ataxia; MIRAS; Alpers
14.  Ribonucleotide reductase is not limiting for mitochondrial DNA copy number in mice 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;38(22):8208-8218.
Ribonucleotide reductase (RNR) is the rate-limiting enzyme in deoxyribonucleoside triphosphate (dNTP) biosynthesis, with important roles in nuclear genome maintenance. RNR is also essential for maintenance of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in mammals. The mechanisms regulating mtDNA copy number in mammals are only being discovered. In budding yeast, RNR overexpression resulted in increased mtDNA levels, and rescued the disease phenotypes caused by a mutant mtDNA polymerase. This raised the question of whether mtDNA copy number increase by RNR induction could be a strategy for treating diseases with mtDNA mutations. We show here that high-level overexpression of RNR subunits (Rrm1, Rrm2 and p53R2; separately or in different combinations) in mice does not result in mtDNA copy number elevation. Instead, simultaneous expression of two RNR subunits leads to imbalanced dNTP pools and progressive mtDNA depletion in the skeletal muscle, without mtDNA mutagenesis. We also show that endogenous RNR transcripts are downregulated in response to large increases of mtDNA in mice, which is indicative of nuclear-mitochondrial crosstalk with regard to mtDNA copy number. Our results establish that RNR is not limiting for mtDNA copy number in mice, and provide new evidence for the importance of balanced dNTP pools in mtDNA maintenance in postmitotic tissues.
PMCID: PMC3001089  PMID: 20724444
15.  Developmental and Pathological Changes in the Human Cardiac Muscle Mitochondrial DNA Organization, Replication and Copy Number 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(5):e10426.
Adult human heart mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has recently been shown to have a complex organization with abundant dimeric molecules, branched structures and four-way junctions. In order to understand the physiological significance of the heart-specific mtDNA maintenance mode and to find conditions that modify human heart mtDNA structure and replication, we analyzed healthy human heart of various ages as well as several different heart diseases, including ischemic heart disease, dilated as well as hypertrophic cardiomyopathies, and several mitochondrial disorders. By using one- and two-dimensional agarose gel electrophoresis, various enzymatic treatments and quantitative PCR we found that in human newborns heart mtDNA has a simple organization, lacking junctional forms and dimers. The adult-type branched forms are acquired in the early childhood, correlating with an increase in mtDNA copy number. Mitochondrial disorders involving either mutations in the mtDNA polymerase γ (PolGα) or mtDNA helicase Twinkle, while having no obvious cardiac manifestation, show distinct mtDNA maintenance phenotypes, which are not seen in various types of diseased heart or in mitochondrial disorders caused by point mutations or large-scale deletions of mtDNA. The findings suggest a link between cardiac muscle development, mtDNA copy number, replication mode and topological organization. Additionally, we show that Twinkle might have a direct role in the maintenance of four-way junctions in human heart mtDNA.
PMCID: PMC2862702  PMID: 20454654
16.  Human Heart Mitochondrial DNA Is Organized in Complex Catenated Networks Containing Abundant Four-way Junctions and Replication Forks* 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2009;284(32):21446-21457.
Analysis of human heart mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) by electron microscopy and agarose gel electrophoresis revealed a complete absence of the θ-type replication intermediates seen abundantly in mtDNA from all other tissues. Instead only Y- and X-junctional forms were detected after restriction digestion. Uncut heart mtDNA was organized in tangled complexes of up to 20 or more genome equivalents, which could be resolved to genomic monomers, dimers, and linear fragments by treatment with the decatenating enzyme topoisomerase IV plus the cruciform-cutting T7 endonuclease I. Human and mouse brain also contained a population of such mtDNA forms, which were absent, however, from mouse, rabbit, or pig heart. Overexpression in transgenic mice of two proteins involved in mtDNA replication, namely human mitochondrial transcription factor A or the mouse Twinkle DNA helicase, generated abundant four-way junctions in mtDNA of heart, brain, and skeletal muscle. The organization of mtDNA of human heart as well as of mouse and human brain in complex junctional networks replicating via a presumed non-θ mechanism is unprecedented in mammals.
PMCID: PMC2755869  PMID: 19525233
17.  Twinkle mutations associated with autosomal dominant progressive external ophthalmoplegia lead to impaired helicase function and in vivo mtDNA replication stalling 
Human Molecular Genetics  2008;18(2):328-340.
Mutations in the mitochondrial helicase Twinkle underlie autosomal dominant progressive external ophthalmoplegia (PEO), as well as recessively inherited infantile-onset spinocerebellar ataxia and rare forms of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) depletion syndrome. Familial PEO is typically associated with the occurrence of multiple mtDNA deletions, but the mechanism by which Twinkle dysfunction induces deletion formation has been under debate. Here we looked at the effects of Twinkle adPEO mutations in human cell culture and studied the mtDNA replication in the Deletor mouse model, which expresses a dominant PEO mutation in Twinkle and accumulates multiple mtDNA deletions during life. We show that expression of dominant Twinkle mutations results in the accumulation of mtDNA replication intermediates in cell culture. This indicated severe replication pausing or stalling and caused mtDNA depletion. A strongly enhanced accumulation of replication intermediates was evident also in six-week-old Deletor mice compared with wild-type littermates, even though mtDNA deletions accumulate in a late-onset fashion in this model. In addition, our results in cell culture pointed to a problem of transcription that preceded the mtDNA depletion phenotype and might be of relevance in adPEO pathophysiology. Finally, in vitro assays showed functional defects in the various Twinkle mutants and broadly agreed with the cell culture phenotypes such as the level of mtDNA depletion and the level of accumulation of replication intermediates. On the basis of our results we suggest that mtDNA replication pausing or stalling is the common consequence of Twinkle PEO mutations that predisposes to multiple deletion formation.
PMCID: PMC2638771  PMID: 18971204
18.  Global Transcript Profiles of Fat in Monozygotic Twins Discordant for BMI: Pathways behind Acquired Obesity  
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(3):e51.
The acquired component of complex traits is difficult to dissect in humans. Obesity represents such a trait, in which the metabolic and molecular consequences emerge from complex interactions of genes and environment. With the substantial morbidity associated with obesity, a deeper understanding of the concurrent metabolic changes is of considerable importance. The goal of this study was to investigate this important acquired component and expose obesity-induced changes in biological pathways in an identical genetic background.
Methods and Findings
We used a special study design of “clonal controls,” rare monozygotic twins discordant for obesity identified through a national registry of 2,453 young, healthy twin pairs. A total of 14 pairs were studied (eight male, six female; white), with a mean ± standard deviation (SD) age 25.8 ± 1.4 y and a body mass index (BMI) difference 5.2 ± 1.8 kg/m2. Sequence analyses of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in subcutaneous fat and peripheral leukocytes revealed no aberrant heteroplasmy between the co-twins. However, mtDNA copy number was reduced by 47% in the obese co-twin's fat. In addition, novel pathway analyses of the adipose tissue transcription profiles exposed significant down-regulation of mitochondrial branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) catabolism (p < 0.0001). In line with this finding, serum levels of insulin secretion-enhancing BCAAs were increased in obese male co-twins (9% increase, p = 0.025). Lending clinical relevance to the findings, in both sexes the observed aberrations in mitochondrial amino acid metabolism pathways in fat correlated closely with liver fat accumulation, insulin resistance, and hyperinsulinemia, early aberrations of acquired obesity in these healthy young adults.
Our findings emphasize a substantial role of mitochondrial energy- and amino acid metabolism in obesity and development of insulin resistance.
Leena Peltonen and colleagues uncover the metabolic changes that result from obesity through an analysis of genetically identical twin pairs in which one was obese and the other was not.
Editors' Summary
Around the world, the proportion of people who are obese (people with an unhealthy amount of body fat) is increasing. In the US, for example, 1 adult in 7 was obese in the mid 1970s. That is, their body mass index (BMI)—their weight in kilograms divided by their height in meters squared—was more than 30. Nowadays, 1 US adult in 3 has a BMI this high and, by 2025, it is predicted that 1 in 2 will be obese. This obesity epidemic is being driven by lifestyle changes that encourage the over-consumption of energy-rich foods and discourage regular physical activity. The resultant energy imbalance leads to weight gain (the excess energy is stored as body fat or adipose tissue) and also triggers numerous metabolic changes, alterations in the chemical processes that convert food into the energy and various substances needed to support life. These obesity-related metabolic changes increase a person's risk of developing adverse health conditions such as diabetes, a condition in which dangerously high levels of sugar from food accumulate in the blood.
Why Was This Study Done?
The changes in human fat in obesity have not been completely understood, although the abnormal metabolism of adipose tissue is increasingly seen as playing a critical part in excessive weight gain. It has been very difficult to decipher which molecular and metabolic changes associated with obesity are the result of becoming obese, and which might contribute towards the acquisition of obesity in humans in the first place. To discover more about the influence of environment on obesity-induced metabolic changes, the researchers in this study have investigated these changes in pairs of genetically identical twins.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers recruited 14 pairs of genetically identical Finnish twins born between 1975 and 1979 who were “obesity discordant”—that is, one twin of each pair had a BMI of about 25 (not obese); the other had a BMI of about 30 (obese). The researchers took fat and blood samples from each twin, determined the insulin sensitivity of each, and measured the body composition and various fat stores of each. They found that the obese twins had more subcutaneous, intra-abdominal, and liver fat and were less insulin sensitive than the non-obese twins. Insulin sensitivity correlated with the amount of liver fat. Analysis of gene expression in the fat samples showed that 19 gene pathways (mainly inflammatory pathways) were expressed more strongly (up-regulated) in the obese twins than the non-obese twins, whereas seven pathways were down-regulated. The most highly down-regulated pathway was a mitochondrial pathway involved in amino acid breakdown, but mitochondrial energy metabolism pathways were also down-regulated. Finally, mitochondrial DNA copy number in fat was reduced in the obese twins by nearly half, a novel observation that could partly account for the obesity-induced metabolic defects of these individuals.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These and other findings identify several pathways that are involved in the development of obesity and insulin resistance. In particular, they suggest that changes in mitochondrial energy production pathways and in mitochondrial amino acid metabolism pathways could play important roles in the development of obesity and of insulin resistance and in the accumulation of liver fat even in young obese people. The study design involving identical twins has here produced some evidence for aberrations in molecules critical for acquired obesity. The results suggest that careful management of obesity by lifestyle changes has the potential to correct the obesity-related metabolic changes in fat that would otherwise lead to diabetes and other adverse health conditions in obese individuals. In addition, they suggest that the development of therapies designed to correct mitochondrial metabolism might help to reduce the illnesses associated with obesity.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia has pages on obesity and diabetes (in English and Spanish)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on all aspects of obesity (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service's health Web site (NHS Direct) provides information about obesity
The International Obesity Taskforce provides information about preventing obesity and on diabetes and obesity
The UK Foods Standards Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture provide online tools and useful advice about healthy eating for adults and children
Information is available for patients and carers from the US National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse on diabetes, including information on insulin resistance
PMCID: PMC2265758  PMID: 18336063
19.  Twinkle and POLG defects enhance age-dependent accumulation of mutations in the control region of mtDNA 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(10):3053-3064.
Autosomal dominant and/or recessive progressive external ophthalmoplegia (ad/arPEO) is associated with mtDNA mutagenesis. It can be caused by mutations in three nuclear genes, encoding the adenine nucleotide translocator 1, the mitochondrial helicase Twinkle or DNA polymerase γ (POLG). How mutations in these genes result in progressive accumulation of multiple mtDNA deletions in post- mitotic tissues is still unclear. A recent hypothesis suggested that mtDNA replication infidelity could promote slipped mispairing, thereby stimulating deletion formation. This hypothesis predicts that mtDNA of ad/arPEO patients will contain frequent mutations throughout; in fact, our analysis of muscle from ad/arPEO patients revealed an age-dependent, enhanced accumulation of point mutations in addition to deletions, but specifically in the mtDNA control region. Both deleted and non-deleted mtDNA molecules showed increased point mutation levels, as did mtDNAs of patients with a single mtDNA deletion, suggesting that point mutations do not cause multiple deletions. Deletion breakpoint analysis showed frequent breakpoints around homopolymeric runs, which could be a signature of replication stalling. Therefore, we propose replication stalling as the principal cause of deletion formation.
PMCID: PMC434440  PMID: 15181170

Results 1-19 (19)