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Segregation of Naturally Occurring Mitochondrial DNA Variants in a Mini-Pig Model

Gael Cagnone, Te-Sha Tsai, Kanokwan Srirattana, Fernando Rossello, David R. Powell, Gary Rohrer, Lynsey Cree, Ian A. Trounce, Justin C. St. John
Genetics 2016 v.202 no.3 pp. 931-944
animals, blood sampling, brain, cytoplasmic inheritance, daughters, diaphragm, females, heart, high-throughput nucleotide sequencing, liver, melting, miniature swine, mitochondrial DNA, mitochondrial genome, models, oocytes, organogenesis
The maternally inherited mitochondrial genome (mtDNA) is present in multimeric form within cells and harbors sequence variants (heteroplasmy). While a single mtDNA variant at high load can cause disease, naturally occurring variants likely persist at low levels across generations of healthy populations. To determine how naturally occurring variants are segregated and transmitted, we generated a mini-pig model, which originates from the same maternal ancestor. Following next-generation sequencing, we identified a series of low-level mtDNA variants in blood samples from the female founder and her daughters. Four variants, ranging from 3% to 20%, were selected for validation by high-resolution melting analysis in 12 tissues from 31 animals across three generations. All four variants were maintained in the offspring, but variant load fluctuated significantly across the generations in several tissues, with sex-specific differences in heart and liver. Moreover, variant load was persistently reduced in high-respiratory organs (heart, brain, diaphragm, and muscle), which correlated significantly with higher mtDNA copy number. However, oocytes showed increased heterogeneity in variant load, which correlated with increased mtDNA copy number during in vitro maturation. Altogether, these outcomes show that naturally occurring mtDNA variants segregate and are maintained in a tissue-specific manner across generations. This segregation likely involves the maintenance of selective mtDNA variants during organogenesis, which can be differentially regulated in oocytes and preimplantation embryos during maturation.