Rev Diabet Stud, 2009, 6(4):237-246 DOI 10.1900/RDS.2009.6.237

Mitochondrial DNA Variants in the Pathogenesis of Type 2 Diabetes - Relevance of Asian Population Studies

Pei-Wen Wang1, Tsu-Kung Lin2, Shao-Wen Weng1, Chia-Wei Liou2

1Department of Internal Medicine, Chang Gung University College of Medicine, Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, Kaohsiung Medical Center, Kaohsiung, Taiwan 83305
2Department of Neurology, Chang Gung University College of Medicine, Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, Kaohsiung Medical Center, Kaohsiung, Taiwan 83305
Address correspondence to: Chia-Wei Liou, e-mail:

Manuscript submitted September 13, 2009; resubmitted November 6, 2009; accepted November 11, 2009.

Keywords: type 2 diabetes, mitochondrial DNA, reactive oxygen species, biosynthesis, phenotype


Mitochondrial dysfunction involves defective insulin secretion by pancreatic beta-cells, and insulin resistance in insulin-sensitive tissues such as muscle and adipose tissue. Mitochondria are recognized as the most important cellular source of energy, and the major generator of intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS). Intracellular antioxidative systems have been developed to cope with increased oxidative damage. In case of minor oxidative stress, the cells may increase the number of mitochondria to produce more energy. A mechanism called mitochondrial biogenesis, involving several transcription factors and regulators, controls the quantity of mitochondria. When oxidative damage is advanced beyond the repair capacity of antioxidative systems, then oxidative stress can lead to cell death. Therefore, this organelle is central to cell life or death. Available evidence increasingly shows genetic linkage between mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) alterations and type 2 diabetes (T2D). Based on previous studies, the mtDNA 16189 variant is associated with metabolic syndrome, higher fasting insulin concentration, insulin resistance index and lacunar cerebral infarction. These data support the involvement of mitochondrial genetic variation in the pathogenesis of T2D. Importantly, phylogeographic studies of the human mtDNAs have revealed that the human mtDNA tree is rooted in Africa and radiates into different geographic regions and can be grouped as haplogroups. The Asian populations carry very different mtDNA haplogroups as compared to European populations. Therefore, it is critically important to determine the role of mtDNA polymorphisms in T2D.

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