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Mitochondrion. 2007 Feb-Apr;7(1-2):45-52. Epub 2006 Dec 12.

Diagnostic challenges of mitochondrial DNA disorders.

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Department of Molecular and Human Genetics, Baylor College of Medicine, One Baylor Plaza, NAB 2015, Houston, TX 77030, USA.


Although mitochondrial disorders are increasingly being recognized, confirming a specific diagnosis remains a great challenge due to the genetic and clinical heterogeneity of the disease. The heteroplasmic nature of most pathogenic mitochondrial DNA mutations and the uncertainties of the clinical significance of novel mutations pose additional complications in making a diagnosis. Suspicion of mitochondrial disease among patients with multiple, seemingly unrelated neuromuscular and multi-system disorders should ideally be confirmed by the finding of deleterious mutations in genes involving mitochondrial biogenesis and functions. The genetics are complex, as the primary mutation can be either in the nuclear or the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). MtDNA mutations are often maternally inherited, but can also be sporadic or secondary to mutations in nuclear-encoded mitochondrial-targeted genes. Several well-defined clinical syndromes associated with specific mutations have been described, yet the genotype-phenotype correlation is often unclear and most patients do not fit within any defined syndrome and even within a family the expressivity of the disease can be extremely variable. This article describes examples representing diagnostic challenges of mitochondrial diseases that include the limitations of the mutation detection method, the occurrence of mitochondrial disease in families with another known neuromuscular disorder, atypical clinical presentation, the lack of correlation between the degree of mutant heteroplasmy and the severity of the disease, variable penetrance, and nuclear gene defects causing mtDNA depletion.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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