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A case for measuring both cellular and cell-free mitochondrial DNA as a disease biomarker in human blood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12278-12288
Number of pages11
JournalFaseb Journal
Issue number9
Accepted/In press1 Jan 2020
Published1 Sep 2020

King's Authors


Circulating mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), widely studied as a disease biomarker, comprises of mtDNA located within mitochondria, indicative of mitochondrial function, and cell-free (cf) mtDNA linked to inflammation. The purpose of this study was to determine the ranges of, and relationship between, cellular and cf mtDNA in human blood. Whole blood from 23 controls (HC) and 20 patients with diabetes was separated into peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), plasma, and serum. Total DNA was isolated and mtDNA copy numbers were determined using absolute quantification. Cellular mtDNA content in PBMCs was higher than in peripheral blood and a surprisingly high level of cf mtDNA was present in serum and plasma of HC, with no direct relationship between cellular and cf mtDNA content within individuals. Diabetes patients had similar levels of cellular mtDNA compared to healthy participants but a significantly higher cf mtDNA content. Furthermore, only in patients with diabetes, we observed a correlation between whole blood and plasma mtDNA levels, indicating that the relationship between cellular and cf mtDNA content is affected by disease status. In conclusion, when evaluating mtDNA in human blood as a biomarker of mitochondrial dysfunction, it is important to measure both cellular and cf mtDNA.

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