Functional recurrent mutations in the human mitochondrial phylogeny: Dual roles in evolution and disease

Liron Levin, Ilia Zhidkov, Yotam Gurman, Hadas Hawlena, Dan Mishmar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mutations frequently reoccur in the human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). However, it is unclear whether recurrent mtDNA nodal mutations (RNMs), that is, recurrent mutations in stems of unrelated phylogenetic nodes, are functional and hence selectively constrained. To answer this question, we performed comprehensive parsimony and maximum likelihood analyses of 9,868 publicly available whole human mtDNAs revealing 1,606 single nodal mutations (SNMs) and 679 RNMs. We then evaluated the potential functionality of synonymous, nonsynonymous and RNA SNMs and RNMs. For synonymous mutations, we have implemented the Codon Adaptation Index. Fornonsynonymous mutations, weassessedevolutionaryconservation,andemployedpreviously described pathogenicity score assessment tools. For RNA genes' mutations, we designed a bioinformatic tool which compiled evolutionary conservation and potential effect on RNA structure. While comparing the functionality scores of nonsynonymous and RNA SNMs and RNMs with those of disease-causing mtDNA mutations, we found significant difference (P< 0.001). However, 24 RNMs and 67 SNMs had comparable values with disease-causing mutations reflecting their potential function thus being the best candidates to participate in adaptive events of unrelated lineages. Strikingly, some functional RNMs occurred in unrelated mtDNA lineages that independently altered susceptibility to the same diseases, thus suggesting common functionality. To our knowledge, this is the most comprehensive analysis of selective signatures in the mtDNA not only within proteins but also within RNA genes. For the first time, we discover virtually all positively selected RNMs in our phylogeny while emphasizing their dual role in past evolutionary events and in disease today.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)876-890
Number of pages15
JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 May 2013


  • Homoplasy
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Recurrent nodal mutations
  • Selection

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics

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