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Mutations of mtDNA polymerase-γ and hyperlactataemia in the HIV-infected Zulu population of South Africa

D B A Ojwach
C Aldous
P Kocheleff
B Sartorius


Background. Mitochondrial toxicity, particularly symptomatic hyperlactataemia or lactic acidosis (SHL/LA), has been attributed to the use of nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), possibly because of their capacity to impede human mitochondrial DNA polymerase-γ (POLG), which is responsible for the replication of mitochondrial DNA.
Objective. To determine whether known monogenic POLG1 polymorphisms could be linked with the unexpectedly high incidence of SHL/ LA observed in HIV-infected Zulu-speaking patients exposed to the NRTIs stavudine or zidovudine in their antiretroviral therapy.
Methods. One hundred and sixteen patients from Edendale Hospital, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, participated in the study between March and August 2014. Fifty-nine symptomatic cases were compared with 57 non-symptomatic controls on stavudine for ≥24 months. Among the symptomatic patients, 13 had SHL with measured lactate between 3.0 and 4.99 mmol/L, and 46 had LA with a lactate level ≥5 mmol/L. Genomic DNA from 113 samples was used for subsequent allelic discrimination polymerase chain reaction screening for the R964C and E1143G single-nucleotide polymorphisms of POLG1. Sequencing was performed for 40/113 randomly selected samples for confirmation of the genotyping results.
Results. Neither of the two known POLG1 mutations was observed. The cases presented with SHL/LA between 4 and 18 months on stavudine. Females (70.4%) were significantly (p<0.001) more likely to be cases (adjusted odds ratio 24.24, 95% CI 5.14 - 114.25) compared with males.
Conclusion. This study has shown that our sample of the Zulu-speaking population does not exhibit a genetic predisposition to SHL/LA associated with known monogenic POLG1 mutations, indicating another possible predisposing factor for increased risk of SHL/LA.

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eISSN: 2078-5135
print ISSN: 0256-9574