A Wide Range of 3243A>G/tRNALeu(UUR) (MELAS) Mutation Loads May Segregate in Offspring through the Female Germline Bottleneck

Pallotti, Francesco; Binelli, Giorgio; Fabbri, Raffaella; Valentino, Maria L.; Vicenti, Rossella; Macciocca, Maria; Cevoli, Sabina; Baruzzi, Agostino; DiMauro, Salvatore; Carelli, Valerio

Segregation of mutant mtDNA in human tissues and through the germline is debated, with no consensus about the nature and size of the bottleneck hypothesized to explain rapid generational shifts in mutant loads. We investigated two maternal lineages with an apparently different inheritance pattern of the same pathogenic mtDNA 3243A>G/tRNALeu(UUR) (MELAS) mutation. We collected blood cells, muscle biopsies, urinary epithelium and hair follicles from 20 individuals, as well as oocytes and an ovarian biopsy from one female mutation carrier, all belonging to the two maternal lineages to assess mutant mtDNA load, and calculated the theoretical germline bottleneck size (number of segregating units). We also evaluated “mother-to-offspring” segregations from the literature, for which heteroplasmy assessment was available in at least three siblings besides the proband. Our results showed that mutation load was prevalent in skeletal muscle and urinary epithelium, whereas in blood cells there was an inverse correlation with age, as previously reported. The histoenzymatic staining of the ovarian biopsy failed to show any cytochrome-c-oxidase defective oocyte. Analysis of four oocytes and one offspring from the same unaffected mother of the first family showed intermediate heteroplasmic mutant loads (10% to 75%), whereas very skewed loads of mutant mtDNA (0% or 81%) were detected in five offspring of another unaffected mother from the second family. Bottleneck size was 89 segregating units for the first mother and 84 for the second. This was remarkably close to 88, the number of “segregating units” in the “mother-to-offspring” segregations retrieved from literature. In conclusion, a wide range of mutant loads may be found in offspring tissues and oocytes, resulting from a similar theoretical bottleneck size.


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October 29, 2016