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Analysis of mtDNA variant segregation during early human embryonic development: a tool for successful NARP preimplantation diagnosis


Background: Diseases arising from mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations are usually serious pleiotropic disorders with maternal inheritance. Owing to the high recurrence risk in the progeny of carrier females, “at-risk” couples often ask for prenatal diagnosis. However, reliability of such practices remains under debate. Preimplantation diagnosis (PGD), a theoretical alternative to conventional prenatal diagnosis, requires that the mutant load measured in a single cell from an eight cell embryo accurately reflects the overall heteroplasmy of the whole embryo, but this is not known to be the case.

Objective: To investigate the segregation of an mtDNA length polymorphism in blastomeres of 15 control embryos from four unrelated couples, the NARP mutation in blastomeres of three embryos from a carrier of this mutation.

Results: Variability of the mtDNA polymorphism heteroplasmy among blastomeres from each embryo was limited, ranging from zero to 19%, with a mean of 7%. PGD for the neurogenic ataxia retinitis pigmentosa (NARP) mtDNA mutation (8993T→G) was therefore carried out in the carrier mother of an affected child. One of three embryos was shown to carry 100% of mutant mtDNA species while the remaining two were mutation-free. These two embryos were transferred, resulting in a singleton pregnancy with delivery of a healthy child.

Conclusions: This PGD, the first reported for a mtDNA mutation, illustrates the skewed meiotic segregation of the NARP mtDNA mutation in early human development. However, discrepancies between the segregation patterns of the NARP mutation and the HV2 polymorphism indicate that a particular mtDNA nucleotide variant might differentially influenced the mtDNA segregation, precluding any assumption on feasibility of PGD for other mtDNA mutations.

  • MtDNA, mitochondrial DNA
  • NARP, neurogenic ataxia retinitis pigmentosa
  • PGD, preimplantation genetic diagnosis
  • NARP
  • mitochondrial DNA
  • preimplantation genetic diagnosis
  • segregation

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