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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Ancient mtDNA sequences in the human nuclear genome: a potential source of errors in identifying pathogenic mutations.

Nuclear-localized mtDNA pseudogenes might explain a recent report describing a heteroplasmic mtDNA molecule containing five linked missense mutations dispersed over the contiguous mtDNA CO1 and CO2 genes in Alzheimer's disease (AD) patients. To test this hypothesis, we have used the PCR primers utilized in the original report to amplify CO1 and CO2 sequences from two independent rho degrees (mtDNA-less) cell lines. CO1 and CO2 sequences amplified from both of the rho degrees cells, demonstrating that these sequences are also present in the human nuclear DNA. The nuclear pseudogene CO1 and CO2 sequences were then tested for each of the five "AD" missense mutations by restriction endonuclease site variant assays. All five mutations were found in the nuclear CO1 and CO2 PCR products from rho degrees cells, but none were found in the PCR products obtained from cells with normal mtDNA. Moreover, when the overlapping nuclear CO1 and CO2 PCR products were cloned and sequenced, all five missense mutations were found, as well as a linked synonymous mutation. Unlike the findings in the original report, an additional 32 base substitutions were found, including two in adjacent tRNAs and a two base pair deletion in the CO2 gene. Phylogenetic analysis of the nuclear CO1 and CO2 sequences revealed that they diverged from modern human mtDNAs early in hominid evolution about 770,000 years before present. These data would be consistent with the interpretation that the missense mutations proposed to cause AD may be the product of ancient mtDNA variants preserved as nuclear pseudogenes.[1]


  1. Ancient mtDNA sequences in the human nuclear genome: a potential source of errors in identifying pathogenic mutations. Wallace, D.C., Stugard, C., Murdock, D., Schurr, T., Brown, M.D. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. (1997) [Pubmed]
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