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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1995 Jul 18;92(15):6892-5.

A mitochondrial DNA clone is associated with increased risk for Alzheimer disease.

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Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles 90033, USA.


Severe mitochondrial genetic mutations lead to early degeneration of specific human tissues; milder mitochondrial mutations may cause degeneration at a later point in life. A mutation at position 4336 was reported to occur at increased frequency in individuals with Alzheimer disease (AD) and Parkinson disease [Shoffner, J. M., Brown, M. D., Torroni, A., Lott, M. T., Cabell, M. F., Mirra, S. S., Beal, M. F., Yang, C.-C., Gearing, M., Salvo, R., Watts, R. L., Juncos, J. L., Hansen, L. A., Crain, B. J., Fayad, M., Reckord, C. L. & Wallace, D. C. (1993) Genomics 17, 171-184]. We have investigated the notion that this mutation leads to excess risk of AD by using a case-control study design of 72 AD autopsies and 296 race- and age-matched controls. The 4336G mutation occurred at higher frequency in AD autopsies than age-matched controls, a statistically significant difference. Evolutionary analysis of mtDNAs bearing the 4336G mutation indicated they were more closely related to each other than to other mtDNAs, consistent with the model of a single origin for this mutation. The tight evolutionary relatedness and homoplasmy of mtDNAs that confer elevated risk for a late-onset disease contrast strikingly with the distant relatedness and heteroplasmy of mitochondrial genomes that cause early-onset disease. The dichotomy can be explained by a lack of selection against mutations that confer a phenotype at advanced age during most of the evolution of humans. We estimate that approximately 1.5 million Caucasians in the United States bear the 4336G mutation and are at significantly increased risk of developing mitochondrial AD in their lifetime. A mechanism for 4336G-mediated cell death is proposed.

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