University of Oulu

Mitochondrial DNA variation in extremely selected traits: longevity and elite athletic performance

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Author: Niemi, Anna-Kaisa1,2
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Neurology
2Oulu University Hospital, Clinical Research Center
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1 MB)
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Language: English
Published: 2005
Publish Date: 2005-05-03
Thesis type: Doctoral Dissertation
Defence Note: Academic Dissertation to be presented with the assent of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Oulu, for public discussion in the Auditorium 101 A of the Faculty of Medicine (Aapistie 5 A), on May 13th, 2005, at 12 noon.
Reviewer: Professor Antti Sajantila
Professor Raimo Sulkava


Mitochondria contain a maternally inherited 16,568bp genome (mtDNA) that encodes for 13 out of more than 70 subunits of complexes of the respiratory chain that produce ATP by oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS). As a byproduct of OXPHOS, reactive oxygen species (ROS) are formed, which may play a role in ageing. MtDNA has accumulated numerous polymorphisms during evolution, leading to haplogroups characterized by ancient polymorphisms and defined by letters. MtDNA polymorphisms are thought to be neutral, but some may be slightly deleterious or even advantageous and may influence phenotypes of complex traits. Interestingly, several complex traits such as longevity and maximal aerobic power show maternal inheritance. Associations between mtDNA polymorphisms and longevity have been reported, but no systematic study has been made of the role of mtDNA in longevity. In addition, there are no previous reports on mtDNA haplogroups in elite athletic performance.

Associations are demonstrated here between mtDNA haplogroups J, K and U and longevity in Finns. Interestingly, subhaplogroup J2 and haplogroup K, which were found in increased frequency among the 225 very old subjects studied, were not found among the 52 endurance athletes but were present in 11% of the 89 sprint athletes Uncoupling of OXPHOS reduces ATP and ROS production. Thus, a mitochondrial genome with a higher level of uncoupling may promote longevity but may not be favourable in situations that require a high level of ATP production, such as elite endurance performance. A more detailed analysis also showed an association between a combination of three common mtDNA polymorphisms and longevity in both the Finns and the Japanese, providing the first epidemiological support for the assumption that the nature of a mutation is determined by interactions with other mutations in mtDNA. In addition, a systematic approach was applied to study the role of mtDNA in longevity. Association analyses of mtDNA allele combinations in longevity revealed that the mtDNA control region, the tRNA and rRNA genes and the nucleotide repeats in mtDNA may play a role in longevity, since the alleles and allele combinations that showed the strongest associations with longevity, either negative or positive, were among these genes. Differences in overall variation in mtDNA between the very old and their controls were also studied, revealing more differences at synonymous (silent) sites than at non-synonymous (amino acid altering) sites.

The findings support previous data suggesting that certain mtDNA haplogroups are associated with longevity. In addition, those haplogroups that increased in frequency among the very old Finns were not found among Finnish endurance athletes. Also, a novel systematic approach was applied to study mtDNA alleles, allele combinations and overall sequence variation in longevity, suggesting that there are interactions between various mtDNA positions and that the tRNA and rRNA genes and short tandem repeats in mtDNA may play a role in longevity.

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Series: Acta Universitatis Ouluensis. D, Medica
ISSN-E: 1796-2234
ISBN: 951-42-7699-X
ISBN Print: 951-42-7698-1
Issue: 821
Copyright information: © University of Oulu, 2005. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.