Deciphering the genetic and epidemiological landscape of mitochondrial DNA abundance

Sara Hägg, Juulia Jylhävä, Yunzhang Wang, Kamila Czene, Felix Grassmann* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)
18 Downloads (Pure)


Mitochondrial (MT) dysfunction is a hallmark of aging and has been associated with most aging-related diseases as well as immunological processes. However, little is known about aging, lifestyle and genetic factors influencing mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) abundance. In this study, mtDNA abundance was estimated from the weighted intensities of probes mapping to the MT genome in 295,150 participants from the UK Biobank. We found that the abundance of mtDNA was significantly elevated in women compared to men, was negatively correlated with advanced age, higher smoking exposure, greater body-mass index, higher frailty index as well as elevated red and white blood cell count and lower mortality. In addition, several biochemistry markers in blood-related to cholesterol metabolism, ion homeostasis and kidney function were found to be significantly associated with mtDNA abundance. By performing a genome-wide association study, we identified 50 independent regions genome-wide significantly associated with mtDNA abundance which harbour multiple genes involved in the immune system, cancer as well as mitochondrial function. Using mixed effects models, we estimated the SNP-heritability of mtDNA abundance to be around 8%. To investigate the consequence of altered mtDNA abundance, we performed a phenome-wide association study and found that mtDNA abundance is involved in risk for leukaemia, hematologic diseases as well as hypertension. Thus, estimating mtDNA abundance from genotyping arrays has the potential to provide novel insights into age- and disease-relevant processes, particularly those related to immunity and established mitochondrial functions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)849-861
Number of pages13
JournalHuman Genetics
Early online date31 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgements: The computations and data handling were enabled by resources provided by the Swedish National Infrastructure for Computing (SNIC) at UPPMAX, Uppsala University, partially funded by the Swedish Research Council through grant agreement no. 2018-05973. This research has been conducted using the UK Biobank Resource under Application Number 22224.

Funding: Open Access funding provided by Karolinska Institute. Open Access funding provided by Karolinska Institute. This work was financed by the Swedish Research Council (Grant 2018-02547, 2015-03255, 2019-01272, 2018-02077), the Swedish Cancer Society (Grants CAN 2016/684), the Stockholm County Council (Grant no. 20170088), the Karolinska Institutet’s Research Foundation (Grant 2018-02146), Karolinska Institutet’s Strategic Research Program in Epidemiology, King Gustaf V:s and Queen Victoria's Foundation of Freemasons, and the Åke Wibergs Foundation (M19-0294). FG was a Leopoldina Postdoctoral Fellow (Grant no. LPDS 2018-06) funded by the Academy of Sciences Leopoldina.

Correction to: Deciphering the genetic and epidemiological landscape of mitochondrial DNA abundance (Human Genetics, (2020), 10.1007/s00439-020-02249-w)

The data were exclusively retrieved from the UK Biobank and can be accessed upon request from the UK Biobank. The mitochondrial DNA abundance as computed in this manuscript will be reported back to the UK Biobank upon publication. The scripts to compute the weights and the weighted mtDNA abundance in the UKB dataset will be published at


  • Original Investigation


Dive into the research topics of 'Deciphering the genetic and epidemiological landscape of mitochondrial DNA abundance'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this