Validation of Low Coverage Whole Genome Sequencing for Mitochondrial DNA Variants Suggests Mitochondrial DNA as a Genetic Cause of Preterm Birth

doi: 10.1002/humu.24279.

Online ahead of print.


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Zeyu Yang et al.

Hum Mutat.



Preterm birth (PTB), or birth that occurs earlier than 37 weeks of gestational age, is a major contributor to infant mortality and neonatal hospitalization. Mutations in the mitochondrial genome (mtDNA) have been linked to various rare mitochondrial disorders, and may be a contributing factor in PTB given that maternal genetic factors have been strongly linked to PTB. However, to date, no study has found a conclusive connection between a particular mtDNA variant and PTB. Given the high mtDNA copy number per cell, an automated pipeline was developed for detecting mtDNA variants using low-pass whole genome sequencing (lcWGS) data. The pipeline was first validated against samples of known heteroplasmy, and then applied to 929 samples from a PTB cohort from diverse ethnic backgrounds with an average gestational age of 27.18 weeks (range: 21-30). Our new pipeline successfully identified haplogroups and a large number of mtDNA variants in this large PTB cohort, including 8 samples carrying known pathogenic variants and 47 samples carrying rare mtDNA variants. These results confirm that lcWGS can be utilized to reliably identify mtDNA variants. These mtDNA variants may make a contribution toward preterm birth in a small proportion of live births. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.


Preterm birth; human genetics; low coverage whole genome sequencing; mitochondrial disease; mitochondrial genome.

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