A genetic bottleneck of mitochondrial DNA during human lymphocyte development


Mitochondria are essential organelles in eukaryotic cells that provide critical support for energetic and metabolic homeostasis. Although the elimination of pathogenic mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations in somatic cells has been observed, the mechanisms to maintain proper functions despite their mtDNA mutation load are poorly understood. In this study, we analyzed somatic mtDNA mutations in more than 30,000 single human peripheral and bone marrow mononuclear cells. We observed a significant overrepresentation of homoplasmic mtDNA mutations in B, T, and natural killer (NK) lymphocytes. Intriguingly, their overall mutational burden was lower than that in hematopoietic progenitors and myeloid cells. This characteristic mtDNA mutational landscape indicates a genetic bottleneck during lymphoid development, as confirmed with single-cell datasets from multiple platforms and individuals. We further demonstrated that mtDNA replication lags behind cell proliferation in both pro-B and pre-B progenitor cells, thus likely causing the genetic bottleneck by diluting mtDNA copies per cell. Through computational simulations and approximate Bayesian computation (ABC), we recapitulated this lymphocyte-specific mutational landscape and estimated the minimal mtDNA copies as <30 in T, B, and NK lineages. Our integrative analysis revealed a novel process of a lymphoid-specific mtDNA genetic bottleneck, thus illuminating a potential mechanism used by highly metabolically active immune cells to limit their mtDNA mutation load.

Molecular Biology and Evolution, 39(5):msac090
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