A mitochondrial DNA clone is associated with increased risk for Alzheimer disease

Timothy Hutchin, Gino A Cortopassi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

172 Scopus citations


Severe mitochondrial genetic mutations lead to early degeneration of specific human tissues; milder mitochondrial mutations may cause degeneration at a later point in life. A mutation at position 4336 was reported to occur at increased frequency in individuals with Alzheimer disease (AD) and Parkinson disease [Shoffner, J. M., Brown, M. D., Torroni, A., Lott, M. T., Cabell, M. F., Mirra, S. S., Beal, M. F., Yang, C.-C., Gearing, M., Salvo, R., Watts, R. L., Juncos, J. L., Hansen, L. A., Crain, B. J., Fayad, M., Reckord, C. L. and Wallace, D.C. (1993) Genomics 17, 171-184]. We have investigated the notion that this mutation leads to excess risk of AD by using a case-control study design of 72 AD autopsies and 296 race- and age- matched controls. The 4336G mutation occurred at higher frequency in AD autopsies than age-matched controls, a statistically significant difference. Evolutionary analysis of mtDNAs bearing the 4336G mutation indicated they were more closely related to each other than to other mtDNAs, consistent with the model of a single origin for this mutation. The tight evolutionary relatedness and homoplasmy of mtDNAs that confer elevated risk for a late- onset disease contrast strikingly with the distant relatedness and heteroplasmy of mitochondrial genomes that cause early-onset disease. The dichotomy can be explained by a lack of selection against mutations that confer a phenotype at advanced age during most of the evolution of humans. We estimate that ≃1.5 million Caucasians in the United States bear the 4336G mutation and ace at significantly increased risk of developing mitochondrial AD in their lifetime. A mechanism for 4336G-mediated cell death is proposed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6892-6895
Number of pages4
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number15
StatePublished - Jul 18 1995


  • evolution
  • genetics
  • mitochondria
  • risk for disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • General


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