A mitochondrial tRNA(Lys) gene mutation at nucleotide position 8344 is responsible for the myoclonus epilepsy associated with ragged-red fibers (MERRF) subgroup of mitochondrial encephalomyopathies. Here, we show that normally modified uridine at the anticodon wobble position remains unmodified in the purified mutant tRNA(Lys). We have reported a similar modification defect at the same position in two mutant mitochondrial tRNAs(Leu)(UUR) in another subgroup, mitochondrial myopathy, encephalopathy, lactic acidosis and stroke-like episodes (MELAS), indicating this defect is common in the two kinds of tRNA molecules with the respective mutations of the two major mitochondrial encephalomyopathies. We therefore suggest the defect in the anticodon is responsible, through the translational process, for the pathogenesis of mitochondrial diseases.
We previously showed that in mitochondrial tRNA(Lys) with an A8344G mutation responsible for myoclonus epilepsy associated with ragged-red fibers (MERRF), a subgroup of mitochondrial encephalomyopathic diseases, the normally modified wobble base (a 2-thiouridine derivative) remains unmodified. Since wobble base modifications are essential for translational efficiency and accuracy, we used mitochondrial components to estimate the translational activity in vitro of purified tRNA(Lys) carrying the mutation and found no mistranslation of non- cognate codons by the mutant tRNA, but almost complete loss of translational activity for cognate codons. This defective translation was not explained by a decline in aminoacylation or lowered affinity toward elongation factor Tu. However, when direct interaction of the codon with the mutant tRNA(Lys) defective anticodon was examined by ribosomal binding analysis, the wild-type but not the mutant tRNA(Lys) bound to an mRNA- ribosome complex. We therefore concluded that the anticodon base modification defect, which is forced by the pathogenic point mutation, disturbs codon- anticodon pairing in the mutant tRNA(Lys), leading to a severe reduction in mitochondrial translation that eventually could result in the onset of MERRF.
Point mutations in mitochondrial (mt) tRNA genes are associated with a variety of human mitochondrial diseases. We have shown previously that mt tRNA(Leu(UUR)) with a MELAS A3243G mutation and mt tRNA(Lys) with a MERRF A8344G mutation derived from HeLa background cybrid cells are deficient in normal taurine-containing modifications [taum(5)(s(2))U; 5-taurinomethyl-(2-thio)uridine] at the anticodon wobble position in both cases. The wobble modification deficiency results in defective translation. We report here wobble modification deficiencies of mutant mt tRNAs from cybrid cells with different nuclear backgrounds, as well as from patient tissues. These findings demonstrate the generality of the wobble modification deficiency in mutant tRNAs in MELAS and MERRF.