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J Biol Chem. 1999 Nov 19;274(47):33426-32.

Threshold effect and tissue specificity. Implication for mitochondrial cytopathies.

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INSERM-EMI 9929, Université Victor Segalen-Bordeaux 2, 146 rue Léo-Saignat, F-33076 Bordeaux Cedex, France.


Mitochondrial cytopathies present a tissue specificity characterized by the fact that even if a mitochondrial DNA mutation is present in all tissues, only some will be affected and induce a pathology. Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain this phenomenon such as the appearance of a sporadic mutation in a given stem cell during embryogenesis or mitotic segregation, giving different degrees of heteroplasmy in tissues. However, these mechanisms cannot be the only ones involved in tissue specificity. In this paper, we propose an additional mechanism contributing to tissue specificity. It is based on the metabolic expression of the defect in oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) complexes that can present a biochemical threshold. The value of this threshold for a given OXPHOS complex can vary according to the tissue; thus different tissues will display different sensitivities to a defect in an OXPHOS complex. To verify this hypothesis and to illustrate the pathological consequences of the variation in biochemical thresholds, we studied their values for seven OXPHOS complexes in mitochondria isolated from five different rat tissues. Two types of behavior in the threshold curves can be distinguished corresponding to two modes of OXPHOS response to a deficiency. We propose a classification of tissues according to their type of OXPHOS response to a complex deficiency and therefore to their threshold values.

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