Purpose: Polymerase gamma (POLG) is the sole enzyme in the replication of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Numerous mutations in the POLG1 gene have been detected recently in patients with various phenotypes including a classic infantile-onset Alpers-Huttenlocher syndrome (AHS). Here we studied the molecular etiology of juvenile-onset AHS manifesting with status epilepticus and liver disease in three teenagers.
Patients and Methods: We examined 14- and 17-year-old female siblings (patients 1 and 2) and an unrelated 15-year-old girl (patient 3) with juvenile-onset AHS, sequenced POLG1, and the entire mtDNA, examined mtDNA deletions by amplification of the full-length mtDNA with the long PCR method and used real-time PCR to quantify mtDNA in the tissue samples.
Results: The initial manifestations were migraine-like headache and epilepsy, and the terminal manifestations status epilepticus and hepatic failure. A homozygous W748S mutation in POLG1 was detected in the three patients. No deletions or pathogenic point mutations were found in mtDNA, but all three patients had mtDNA depletion.
Conclusions: POLG mutations should be considered in cases of teenagers and young adults with a sudden onset of intractable seizures or status epilepticus, and acute liver failure. The W748S POLG1 mutation seems to lead to tissue-specific, partial mtDNA depletion in patients with juvenile-onset Alpers syndrome. Valproic acid should be avoided in the treatment of epileptic seizures in these patients.