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J Bioenerg Biomembr. 1994 Jun;26(3):301-10.

Mitochondrial DNA diseases: histological and cellular studies.

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Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


Large-scale deletions and tRNA point mutations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) are associated with a variety of different mitochondrial encephalomyopathies. Skeletal muscle in these patients shows a typical pathology, characterized by the focal accumulation of large numbers of morphologically and biochemically abnormal mitochondrial (ragged-red fibers). Both mtDNA deletions and tRNA point mutations impair mitochondrial translation and produce deficiencies in oxidative phosphorylation. However, mutant and wild-type mtDNAs co-exist (mtDNA heteroplasmy) and the translation defect is not expressed until the ratio of mutant: wild-type mtDNAs exceeds a specific threshold. Below the threshold the phenotype can be rescued by intramitochondrial genetic complementation. The mosaic expression of the skeletal muscle pathology is thus determined by both the cellular and organellar distribution of mtDNA mutants.

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