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Hum Mol Genet. 2011 Apr 15;20(8):1653-9. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddr043. Epub 2011 Feb 4.

Neutral mitochondrial heteroplasmy and the influence of aging.

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Department of Pediatrics, The University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.


The development and maintenance of mitochondrial heteroplasmy has important consequences for both health and heredity. Previous studies using pathogenic mutations have shown considerable variability between maternally related individuals and studies of several D-loop polymorphisms have suggested a relationship between heteroplasmy and somatic aging. To broadly explore the variation of human heteroplasmy and to clarify the dynamics of somatic heteroplasmy over the course of lifespan, we analyzed mitochondrial sequence variation across a range of ages. We utilized array-generated single-nucleotide polymorphism data that were well correlated with independent measures of heteroplasmy. Significant levels of heteroplasmy were identified at 0.24% of sites evaluated. By examining mother-child pairs, we found that heteroplasmy was inherited (30%) but could occur de novo in offspring or, conversely, be present in mothers but eliminated in their children (70%). Cumulatively, mitochondrial heteroplasmy across the genome increased significantly with advanced age (r = 0.224, P =8 × 10(-30)). Surprisingly, changes in heteroplasmy were not uniform with some sites demonstrating a loss of variation (increased homoplasmy) with aging. These data suggest that both mutation and selective pressure affect blood mitochondrial DNA sequence over the course of the human lifespan and reveal the unexpectedly dynamic nature of human heteroplasmy.

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