Academic Commons


Independent impacts of aging on mitochondrial DNA quantity and quality in humans

Zhang, Ruoyu; Wang, Yiqin; Ye, Kaixiong; Picard, Martin; Gu, Zhenglong

Background The accumulation of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations, and the reduction of mtDNA copy number, both disrupt mitochondrial energetics, and may contribute to aging and age-associated phenotypes. However, there are few genetic and epidemiological studies on the spectra of blood mtDNA heteroplasmies, and the distribution of mtDNA copy numbers in different age groups and their impact on age-related phenotypes. In this work, we used whole-genome sequencing data of isolated peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from the UK10K project to investigate in parallel mtDNA heteroplasmy and copy number in 1511 women, between 17 and 85 years old, recruited in the TwinsUK cohorts. Results We report a high prevalence of pathogenic mtDNA heteroplasmies in this population. We also find an increase in mtDNA heteroplasmies with age (β = 0.011, P = 5.77e-6), and showed that, on average, individuals aged 70-years or older had 58.5% more mtDNA heteroplasmies than those under 40-years old. Conversely, mtDNA copy number decreased by an average of 0.4 copies per year (β = −0.395, P = 0.0097). Multiple regression analyses also showed that age had independent effects on mtDNA copy number decrease and heteroplasmy accumulation. Finally, mtDNA copy number was positively associated with serum bicarbonate level (P = 4.46e-5), and inversely correlated with white blood cell count (P = 0.0006). Moreover, the aggregated heteroplasmy load was associated with blood apolipoprotein B level (P = 1.33e-5), linking the accumulation of mtDNA mutations to age-related physiological markers. Conclusions Our population-based study indicates that both mtDNA quality and quantity are influenced by age. An open question for the future is whether interventions that would contribute to maintain optimal mtDNA copy number and prevent the expansion of heteroplasmy could promote healthy aging.


  • thumnail for 12864_2017_Article_4287.pdf 12864_2017_Article_4287.pdf application/pdf 1.51 MB Download File

More Information

Published In
BMC Genomics
Publisher DOI
1 - 14
Academic Units


Aging, Heteroplasmy, mtDNA copy number, Whole genome sequencing

Academic Commons provides global access to research and scholarship produced at Columbia University, Barnard College, Teachers College, Union Theological Seminary and Jewish Theological Seminary. Academic Commons is managed by the Columbia University Libraries.