Using urine to diagnose large-scale mtDNA deletions in adult patients

Kristin N. Varhaug*, Gonzalo S. Nido, Irenaeus de Coo, Pirjo Isohanni, Anu Suomalainen, Charalampos Tzoulis, Per Knappskog, Laurence A. Bindoff

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objective: The aim of this study was to evaluate if urinary sediment cells offered a robust alternative to muscle biopsy for the diagnosis of single mtDNA deletions. Methods: Eleven adult patients with progressive external ophthalmoplegia and a known single mtDNA deletion were investigated. Urinary sediment cells were used to isolate DNA, which was then subjected to long-range polymerase chain reaction. Where available, the patient's muscle DNA was studied in parallel. Breakpoint and thus deletion size were identified using both Sanger sequencing and next generation sequencing. The level of heteroplasmy was determined using quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Results: We identified the deletion in urine in 9 of 11 cases giving a sensitivity of 80%. Breakpoints and deletion size were readily detectable in DNA extracted from urine. Mean heteroplasmy level in urine was 38% +/- 26 (range 8 - 84%), and 57% +/- 28 (range 12 - 94%) in muscle. While the heteroplasmy level in urinary sediment cells differed from that in muscle, we did find a statistically significant correlation between these two levels (R = 0.714, P = 0.031(Pearson correlation)). Interpretation: Our findings suggest that urine can be used to screen patients suspected clinically of having a single mtDNA deletion. Based on our data, the use of urine could considerably reduce the need for muscle biopsy in this patient group.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1318-1326
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of Clinical and Translational Neurology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020




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