Genome biology and evolution

Disrupting mitochondrial-nuclear coevolution affects OXPHOS complex I integrity and impacts human health.

PMID 25245408


The mutation rate of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is higher by an order of magnitude as compared with the nuclear genome, enforces tight mitonuclear coevolution to maintain mitochondrial activities. Interruption of such coevolution plays a role in interpopulation hybrid breakdown, speciation events, and disease susceptibility. Previously, we found an elevated amino acid replacement rate and positive selection in the nuclear DNA-encoded oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) complex I subunit NDUFC2, a phenomenon important for the direct interaction of NDUFC2 with the mtDNA-encoded complex I subunit ND4. This finding underlines the importance of mitonuclear coevolution to physical interactions between mtDNA and nuclear DNA-encoded factors. Nevertheless, it remains unclear whether this interaction is important for the stability and activity of complex I. Here, we show that siRNA silencing of NDUFC2 reduced growth of human D-407 retinal pigment epithelial cells, significantly diminished mitochondrial membrane potential, and interfered with complex I integrity. Moreover, site-directed mutagenesis of a positively selected amino acid in NDUFC2 significantly interfered with the interaction of NDUFC2 with its mtDNA-encoded partner ND4. Finally, we show that a genotype combination involving this amino acid (NDUFC2 residue 46) and the mtDNA haplogroup HV likely altered susceptibility to type 2 diabetes mellitus in Ashkenazi Jews. Therefore, mitonuclear coevolution is important for maintaining mitonuclear factor interactions, OXPHOS, and for human health.