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Hum Reprod Update. 2017 Sep 1;23(5):501-519. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmx018.

Novel reproductive technologies to prevent mitochondrial disease.

Author information

Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Research, Institute of Neuroscience, The Medical School, Framlington Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4HH, UK.
Ghent-Fertility and Stem Cell Team (G-FaST), Department for Reproductive Medicine, Ghent University Hospital, De Pintelaan 185, 9000 Ghent, Belgium.



The use of nuclear transfer (NT) has been proposed as a novel reproductive treatment to overcome the transmission of maternally-inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations. Pathogenic mutations in mtDNA can cause a wide-spectrum of life-limiting disorders, collectively known as mtDNA disease, for which there are currently few effective treatments and no known cures. The many unique features of mtDNA make genetic counselling challenging for women harbouring pathogenic mtDNA mutations but reproductive options that involve medical intervention are available that will minimize the risk of mtDNA disease in their offspring. This includes PGD, which is currently offered as a clinical treatment but will not be suitable for all. The potential for NT to reduce transmission of mtDNA mutations has been demonstrated in both animal and human models, and has recently been clinically applied not only to prevent mtDNA disease but also for some infertility cases. In this review, we will interrogate the different NT techniques, including a discussion on the available safety and efficacy data of these technologies for mtDNA disease prevention. In addition, we appraise the evidence for the translational use of NT technologies in infertility.


We propose to review the current scientific evidence regarding the clinical use of NT to prevent mitochondrial disease.


The scientific literature was investigated by searching PubMed database until Jan 2017. Relevant documents from Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority as well as reports from both the scientific and popular media were also implemented. The above searches were based on the following key words: 'mitochondria', 'mitochondrial DNA'; 'mitochondrial DNA disease', 'fertility'; 'preimplantation genetic diagnosis', 'nuclear transfer', 'mitochondrial replacement' and 'mitochondrial donation'.


While NT techniques have been shown to effectively reduce the transmission of heteroplasmic mtDNA variants in animal models, and increasing evidence supports their use to prevent the transmission of human mtDNA disease, the need for robust, long-term evaluation is still warranted. Moreover, prenatal screening would still be strongly advocated in combination with the use of these IVF-based technologies. Scientific evidence to support the use of NT and other novel reproductive techniques for infertility is currently lacking.


It is mandatory that any new ART treatments are first adequately assessed in both animal and human models before the cautious implementation of these new therapeutic approaches is clinically undertaken. There is growing evidence to suggest that the translation of these innovative technologies into clinical practice should be cautiously adopted only in highly selected patients. Indeed, given the limited safety and efficacy data, close monitoring of any offspring remains paramount.


fertility; heteroplasmy; mitochondria; mtDNA; mutation; nuclear transfer; oocyte; preimplantation; reproductive; spindle transfer

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