Background: Studies on heteroplasmy occurring in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region (CR) in leukocytes of centenarians and younger subjects have shown that the C150T somatic transition is over-represented in centenarians. However, whether the occurrence/ accumulation of heteroplasmy is a phenotypic consequence of extreme ageing or a genetically controlled event that may favor longevity is a question that deserves further attention. To clarify this point, we set up a Denaturing High Performance Liquid Chromatography (DHPLC) protocol to quantify mtDNA CR heteroplasmy. We then analyzed heteroplasmy in leukocytes of centenarians (100 subjects), their offspring and nieces/ nephews (200 subjects, age-range 65-80 years, median age 70 years), and in leukocytes of 114 control subjects sex- and age-matched with the relatives of centenarians. Results: The centenarians and their descendants, despite the different ages, showed similar levels of heteroplasmy which were significantly higher than levels in controls. In addition we found that heteroplasmy levels were significantly correlated in parent-offspring pairs (r = 0.263; p = 0.009), but were independent of mtDNA inherited variability (haplogroup and sequence analyses). Conclusion: Our findings suggest that the high degree of heteroplasmy observed in centenarians is genetically controlled, and that such genetic control is independent of mtDNA variability and likely due to the nuclear genome.
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