The human POLG gene encodes the catalytic subunit of mitochondrial DNA polymerase gamma (pol gamma). Mutations in pol gamma are associated with a spectrum of disease phenotypes including autosomal dominant and recessive forms of progressive external ophthalmoplegia, spino-cerebellar ataxia and epilepsy, and Alpers-Huttenlocher hepatocerebral poliodystrophy. Multiple deletions, or depletion of mtDNA in affected tissues, are the molecular hallmarks of pol gamma mutations. To shed light on the pathogenic mechanisms leading to these phenotypes, we have introduced in MIP1, the yeast homologue of POLG, two mutations equivalent to the human Y955C and G268A mutations, which are associated with dominant and recessive PEO, respectively. Both mutations induced the generation of petite colonies, carrying either rearranged (rho-) or no (rho0) mtDNA. Mutations in genes that control the mitochondrial supply of deoxynucleotides (dNTP) affect the mtDNA integrity in both humans and yeast. To test whether the manipulation of the dNTP pool can modify the effects of pol gamma mutations in yeast, we have overexpressed a dNTP checkpoint enzyme, ribonucleotide reductase, RNR1, or deleted its inhibitor, SML1. In both mutant strains, the petite mutability was dramatically reduced. The same result was obtained by exposing the mutant strains to dihydrolipoic acid, an anti-oxidant agent. Therefore, an increase of the mitochondrial dNTP pool and/or a decrease of reactive oxygen species can prevent the mtDNA damage induced by pol gamma mutations in yeast and, possibly, in humans.
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