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Mutat Res. 2003 Jan 28;522(1-2):13-9.

Clonal expansions of mitochondrial genomes: implications for in vivo mutational spectra.

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  • 1Gerontology Division, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


It is often assumed mutant frequencies, as measured in a DNA sample, faithfully represent basic mutation rates associated with these mutations. This paradigm was extremely helpful for in vitro studies of the mechanisms of mutagenesis/repair and causes of mutations. However, in vivo, mutant fractions appear to vary dramatically and randomly from sample to sample. It's unlikely that basic mutational rates vary so much. Such variations are probably caused by clonal expansions of mutants within tissue. Whether a particular tissue sample includes an expansion or not, is a matter of chance, which explains the observed random fluctuations of mutant fractions. Well-known examples of clonal expansions involve pathological conditions such as cancer or mitochondrial disease. It is less appreciated that even in normal tissue, expansions of somatic mutants create local deviations from the "expected" mutant frequencies. The sizes of clonal expansions appear to span a wide range and thus, may affect samples of various sizes, from individual cells to individuals. In conclusion, human body appears to be a sort of a "gambling ground" for clonally expanding mutants. We speculate that expansion of early mutants rather than de novo mutation at old age may be the major source of at least some aging-specific mutants in our bodies.

Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science B.V.

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