CPEO (chronic progressive external ophthalmoplegia) is a common mitochondrial disease phenotype in adults which is due to mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) point mutations in a subset of patients. Attributing pathogenicity to novel tRNA mtDNA mutations still poses a challenge, particularly when several mtDNA sequence variants are present. In the present study we report a CPEO patient for whom sequencing of the mitochondrial genome revealed three novel tRNA mtDNA mutations: G5835A, del4315A, T1658C in tRNATyr, tRNAIle and tRNAVal genes. In skeletal muscle, the tRNAVal and tRNAIle mutations were homoplasmic, whereas the tRNATyr mutation was heteroplasmic. To address the pathogenic relevance, we performed two types of functional tests: (i) single skeletal muscle fibre analysis comparing G5835A mutation loads and biochemical phenotypes of corresponding fibres, and (ii) Northern-blot analyses of mitochondrial tRNATyr, tRNAIle and tRNAVal. We demonstrated that both the G5835A tRNATyr and del4315A tRNAIle mutation have serious functional consequences. Single-fibre analyses displayed a high threshold of the tRNATyr mutation load for biochemical phenotypic expression at the single-cell level, indicating a rather mild pathogenic effect. In contrast, skeletal muscle tissue showed a severe decrease in respiratory-chain activities, a reduced overall COX (cytochrome c oxidase) staining intensity and abundant COX-negative fibres. Northern-blot analyses showed a dramatic reduction of tRNATyr and tRNAIle levels in muscle, with impaired charging of tRNAIle, whereas tRNAVal levels were only slightly decreased, with amino-acylation unaffected. Our findings suggest that the heteroplasmic tRNATyr and homoplasmic tRNAIle mutation act together, resulting in a concerted effect on the biochemical and histological phenotype. Thus homoplasmic mutations may influence the functional consequences of pathogenic heteroplasmic mtDNA mutations.

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