The nucleotide pair (np) 7472 insC mitochondrial DNA mutation in the tRNA(Ser)(UCN) gene is associated with sensorineural deafness, combined in some individuals with a wider syndrome including ataxia and myoclonus. Previous studies in osteosarcoma cell cybrids revealed only a mild respiratory defect linked to the mutation. We have investigated the biochemical and molecular consequences of the mutation, using a panel of seven osteosarcoma cell cybrids containing 100% mutant mtDNA, plus two cybrids carrying 100% wild-type mtDNA from the same patient. The mutation is associated with a mild growth deficit in selective (galactose) medium that is only significant in combination with a reduced mtDNA copy number, suggesting a mechanism that might modulate clinical phenotype. The mutation results in a 65% drop in the steady-state level of tRNA(Ser)(UCN), but causes at most only a very mild and quantitative abnormality of mitochondrial protein synthesis, associated with modest hypersensitivity to doxycyclin. No evidence for a specific defect in aminoacylation was obtained, and unlike the case with the np 7445 mutation, the pattern of RNA processing of light strand transcripts of the ND6 region was not systematically altered. Comparing the np 7472 and np 7445 mutant phenotypes in cultured cells suggests that sensorineural deafness can result from a functional insufficiency of mitochondrial tRNA(Ser)(UCN), to which some cells of the auditory system are especially vulnerable.
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