Deep sequencing of the mitochondrial genome reveals common heteroplasmic sites in NADH dehydrogenase genes

Chunyu Liu, Jessica L. Fetterman, Poching Liu, Yan Luo, Martin G. Larson, Ramachandran S. Vasan, Jun Zhu, Daniel Levy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Increasing evidence implicates mitochondrial dysfunction in aging and age-related conditions. But little is known about the molecular basis for this connection. A possible cause may be mutations in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which are often heteroplasmic—the joint presence of different alleles at a single locus in the same individual. However, the involvement of mtDNA heteroplasmy in aging and age-related conditions has not been investigated thoroughly. We deep-sequenced the complete mtDNA genomes of 356 Framingham Heart Study participants (52% women, mean age 43, mean coverage 4570-fold), identified 2880 unique mutations and comprehensively annotated them by MITOMAP and PolyPhen-2. We discovered 11 heteroplasmic “hot” spots [NADH dehydrogenase (ND) subunit 1, 4, 5 and 6 genes, n = 7; cytochrome c oxidase I (COI), n = 2; 16S rRNA, n = 1; D-loop, n = 1] for which the alternative-to-reference allele ratios significantly increased with advancing age (Bonferroni correction p < 0.001). Four of these heteroplasmic mutations in ND and COI genes were predicted to be deleterious nonsynonymous mutations which may have direct impact on ATP production. We confirmed previous findings that healthy individuals carry many low-frequency heteroplasmy mutations with potentially deleterious effects. We hypothesize that the effect of a single deleterious heteroplasmy may be minimal due to a low mutant-to-wildtype allele ratio, whereas the aggregate effects of many deleterious mutations may cause changes in mitochondrial function and contribute to age-related diseases. The identification of age-related mtDNA mutations is an important step to understand the genetic architecture of age-related diseases and may uncover novel therapeutic targets for such diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-213
Number of pages11
JournalHuman Genetics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Genetics


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