Extensive efforts have been directed at using genome-wide association studies (GWAS) to identify the genes responsible for common metabolic and degenerative diseases, cancer, and aging, but with limited success. While environmental factors have been evoked to explain this conundrum, the nature of these environmental factors remains unexplained. The availability of and demands for energy constitute one of the most important aspects of the environment. The flow of energy through the cell is primarily mediated by the mitochondrion, which oxidizes reducing equivalents from hydrocarbons via acetyl-CoA, NADH + H(+), and FADH(2) to generate ATP through oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS). The mitochondrial genome encompasses hundreds of nuclear DNA (nDNA)-encoded genes plus 37 mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)-encoded genes. Although the mtDNA has a high mutation rate, only milder, potentially adaptive mutations are introduced into the population through female oocytes. In contrast, nDNA-encoded bioenergetic genes have a low mutation rate. However, their expression is modulated by histone phosphorylation and acetylation using mitochondrially-generated ATP and acetyl-CoA, which permits increased gene expression, growth, and reproduction when calories are abundant. Phosphorylation, acetylaton, and cellular redox state also regulate most signal transduction pathways and activities of multiple transcription factors. Thus, mtDNA mutations provide heritable and stable adaptation to regional differences while mitochondrially-mediated changes in the epigenome permit reversible modulation of gene expression in response to fluctuations in the energy environment. The most common genomic changes that interface with the environment and cause complex disease must, therefore, be mitochondrial and epigenomic in origin. (c) 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc. Dev Disabil Res Rev 2010;16:114-119.
Wallace DC. Dev Disabil Res Rev. 2010 Jun;16(2):114-9. The Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Center for Mitochondrial and Epigenomic Medicine, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.