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Large reservoir of mitochondrial DNA mutations identified in humans
Date:8/11/2008

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Dr. David Samuels, Assistant Professor at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute and an author on this study, commented: "We know from many clinical studies of patients and their families that our cells can tolerate a rather large amount of mutant mitochondrial DNA with no significant loss of function. From that observation we have suspected that there may be a large number of people in the general population who carry pathogenic mitochondrial DNA mutations, but who are not obviously ill with a mitochondrial disease. This study gives us, for the first time, a measurement of the number of these carriers of pathogenic mitochondrial DNA mutations in the general population. One in every 200 individuals is a lot of people around 1.5 million people in the United States alone. "

The scientists looked at 10 mitochondrial DNA mutations (arising from single nucleotide replacements) often found in patients with mitochondrial disease. By taking advantage of a high-throughput genotyping system that uses mass spectrometry measurements, the researchers were able to detect mutated mitochondrial DNA at high sensitivity. In each positive case, DNA cloning and sequencing were used to confirm the findings. By looking at differences in tissue samples from mother and child, the researchers were also able to estimate the rate at which new DNA mutations had arisen in the population. The incidence of new mutations was close to 100 for every 100, 000 live births.

Dr. Samuels commented: "These new clinical measurements have given direct evidence for the widespread incidence of pathogenic mitochondrial DNA mutations in the human population. These findings emphasize the pressing need to develop effective ways to interrupt the transmission of these mutations to the next generation."


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Contact: Barry Whyte
whyte@vbi.vt.edu
540-231-1767
Virginia Tech
Source:Eurekalert

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