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Medicine (Baltimore). 1998 Jan;77(1):59-72.

Mitochondrial disorders.

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1
Division of Biochemistry and Genetics, National Neurological Institute-IRCCS C. Besta, Milan, Italy. zeviani@mbox.vol.it

Abstract

Mitochondrial respiration, the most efficient metabolic pathway devoted to energy production, is at the crosspoint of 2 quite different genetic systems, the nuclear genome and the mitochondrial genome (mitochondrial DNA, mtDNA). The latter encodes a few essential components of the mitochondrial respiratory chain and has unique molecular and genetic properties that account for some of the peculiar features of mitochondrial disorders. However, the perpetuation, propagation, and expression of mtDNA, the majority of the subunits of the respiratory complexes, as well as a number of genes involved in their assembly and turnover, are contained in the nuclear genome. Although mitochondrial disorders have been known for more than 30 years, a major breakthrough in their understanding has come much later, with the discovery of an impressive, ever-increasing number of mutations of mitochondrial DNA. Partial deletions or duplications of mtDNA, or maternally inherited point mutations, have been associated with well-defined clinical syndromes. However, phenotypes transmitted as mendelian traits have also been identified. These include clinical entities defined on the basis of specific biochemical defects, and also a few autosomal dominant or recessive syndromes associated with multiple deletions or tissue-specific depletion of mtDNA. Given the complexity of mitochondrial genetics and biochemistry, the clinical manifestations of mitochondrial disorders are extremely heterogenous. They range from lesions of single tissues or structures, such as the optic nerve in Leber hereditary optic neuropathy or the cochlea in maternally inherited nonsyndromic deafness, to more widespread lesions including myopathies, encephalomyopathies, cardiopathies, or complex multisystem syndromes. The recent advances in genetic studies provide both diagnostic tools and new pathogenetic insights in this rapidly expanding area of human pathology.

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