Germline transmission of donor, maternal and paternal mtDNA in primates

Hong Ma, Crystal Van Dyken, Hayley Darby, Aleksei Mikhalchenko, Nuria Marti-Gutierrez, Amy Koski, Dan Liang, Ying Li, Rebecca Tippner-Hedges, Eunju Kang, Yeonmi Lee, Heather Sidener, Cathy Ramsey, Travis Hodge, Paula Amato, Shoukhrat Mitalipov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


STUDY QUESTION: What are the long-term developmental, reproductive and genetic consequences of mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT) in primates? SUMMARY ANSWER: Longitudinal investigation of MRT rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) generated with donor mtDNA that is exceedingly distant from the original maternal counterpart suggest that their growth, general health and fertility is unremarkable and similar to controls. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Mitochondrial gene mutations contribute to a diverse range of incurable human disorders. MRT via spindle transfer in oocytes was developed and proposed to prevent transmission of pathogenic mtDNA mutations from mothers to children. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: The study provides longitudinal studies on general health, fertility as well as transmission and segregation of parental mtDNA haplotypes to various tissues and organs in five adult MRT rhesus macaques and their offspring. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: MRT was achieved by spindle transfer between metaphase II oocytes from genetically divergent rhesus macaque populations. After fertilization of oocytes with sperm, heteroplasmic zygotes contained an unequal mixture of three parental genomes, i.e. donor (≥97%), maternal (≤3%), and paternal (≤0.1%) mitochondrial (mt)DNA. MRT monkeys were grown to adulthood and their development and general health was regularly monitored. Reproductive fitness of male and female MRT macaques was evaluated by time-mated breeding and production of live offspring. The relative contribution of donor, maternal, and paternal mtDNA was measured by whole mitochondrial genome sequencing in all organs and tissues of MRT animals and their offspring. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Both male and female MRT rhesus macaques containing unequal mixture of three parental genomes, i.e. donor (≥97%), maternal (≤3%), and paternal (≤0.1%) mtDNA reached healthy adulthood, were fertile and most animals stably maintained the initial ratio of parental mtDNA heteroplasmy and donor mtDNA was transmitted from females to offspring. However, in one monkey out of four analyzed, initially negligible maternal mtDNA heteroplasmy levels increased substantially up to 17% in selected internal tissues and organs. In addition, two monkeys showed paternal mtDNA contribution up to 33% in selected internal tissues and organs. LARGE SCALE DATA: N/A. LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: Conclusions in this study were made on a relatively low number of MRT monkeys, and on only one F1 (first generation) female. In addition, monkey MRT involved two wildtype mtDNA haplotypes, but not disease-relevant variants. Clinical trials on children born after MRT will be required to fully determine safety and efficacy of MRT for humans. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: Our data show that MRT is compatible with normal postnatal development including overall health and reproductive fitness in nonhuman primates without any detected adverse effects. 'Mismatched' donor mtDNA in MRT animals even from the genetically distant mtDNA haplotypes did not cause secondary mitochondrial dysfunction. However, carry-over maternal or paternal mtDNA contributions increased substantially in selected internal tissues / organs of some MRT animals implying the possibility of mtDNA mutation recurrence. STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): This work has been funded by the grants from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the National Institutes of Health (RO1AG062459 and P51 OD011092), National Research Foundation of Korea (2018R1D1A1B07043216) and Oregon Health & Science University institutional funds. The authors declare no competing interests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)493-505
Number of pages13
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2021


  • germline transmission
  • heteroplasmy
  • maternal mtDNA carryover
  • mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT)
  • mtDNA segregation
  • paternal mtDNA transmission

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


Dive into the research topics of 'Germline transmission of donor, maternal and paternal mtDNA in primates'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this