Population-level expression variability of mitochondrial DNA-encoded genes in humans. Academic Article uri icon


  • Human mitochondria contain multiple copies of a circular genome made up of double-stranded DNA (mtDNA) that encodes proteins involved in cellular respiration. Transcript abundance of mtDNA-encoded genes varies between human individuals, yet the level of variation in the general population has not been systematically assessed. In the present study, we revisited large-scale RNA sequencing data generated from lymphoblastoid cell lines of HapMap samples of European and African ancestry to estimate transcript abundance and quantify expression variation for mtDNA-encoded genes. In both populations, we detected up to over 100-fold difference in mtDNA gene expression between individuals. The marked variation was not due to differences in mtDNA copy number between individuals, but was shaped by the transcription of hundreds of nuclear genes. Many of these nuclear genes were co-expressed with one another, resulting in a module-enriched co-expression network. Significant correlations in expression between genes of the mtDNA and nuclear genomes were used to identify factors involved with the regulation of mitochondrial functions. In conclusion, we determined the baseline amount of variability in mtDNA gene expression in general human populations and cataloged a complete set of nuclear genes whose expression levels are correlated with those of mtDNA-encoded genes. Our findings will enable the integration of information from both mtDNA and nuclear genetic systems, and facilitate the discovery of novel regulatory pathways involving mitochondrial functions.

published proceedings

  • Eur J Hum Genet

altmetric score

  • 1

author list (cited authors)

  • Wang, G., Yang, E., Mandhan, I., Brinkmeyer-Langford, C. L., & Cai, J. J.

citation count

  • 8

complete list of authors

  • Wang, Gang||Yang, Ence||Mandhan, Ishita||Brinkmeyer-Langford, Candice L||Cai, James J

publication date

  • September 2014