Expanding and validating the biomarkers for mitochondrial diseases

the ER-MITO Study Group

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Abstract: Mitochondrial diseases are highly heterogeneous metabolic disorders caused by genetic alterations in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) or in the nuclear genome. In this study, we investigated a panel of blood biomarkers in a cohort of 123 mitochondrial patients, with prominent neurological and muscular manifestations. These biomarkers included creatine, fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) and growth/differentiation factor 15 (GDF-15), and the novel cell free circulating-mtDNA (ccf-mtDNA). All biomarkers were significantly increased in the patient group. After stratification by the specific phenotypes, ccf-mtDNA was significantly increased in the Mitochondrial Encephalomyopathy Lactic Acidosis Stroke-like episodes syndrome (MELAS) group, and FGF21 and GDF-15 were significantly elevated in patients with MELAS and Myoclonic Epilepsy Ragged Red Fibers syndrome. On the contrary, in our cohort, creatine was not associated to a specific clinical phenotype. Longitudinal assessment in four MELAS patients showed increased levels of ccf-mtDNA in relation to acute events (stroke-like episodes/status epilepticus) or progression of neurodegeneration. Our results confirm the association of FGF21 and GDF-15 with mitochondrial translation defects due to tRNA mutations. Most notably, the novel ccf-mtDNA was strongly associated with MELAS and may be used for monitoring the disease course or to evaluate the efficacy of therapies, especially in the acute phase. Key messages: • FGF21/GDF15 efficiently identifies mitochondrial diseases due to mutations in tRNA genes. • The novel ccf-mtDNA is associated with MELAS and increases during acute events. • Creatine only discriminates severe mitochondrial patients. • FGF21, GDF-15, and ccf-mtDNA are possibly useful for monitoring therapy efficacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1467-1478
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Molecular Medicine
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2020


  • Biomarkers
  • Cell free circulating-mtDNA
  • Creatine
  • FGF21
  • GDF-15
  • Mitochondrial diseases

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Drug Discovery
  • Genetics(clinical)


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