The genetic and phenotypic correlates of mtDNA copy number in a multi-ancestry cohort

Penn Medicine BioBank

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1 Scopus citations


Mitochondrial DNA copy number (mtCN) is often treated as a proxy for mitochondrial (dys-) function and disease risk. Pathological changes in mtCN are common symptoms of rare mitochondrial disorders, but reported associations between mtCN and common diseases vary across studies. To understand the biology of mtCN, we carried out genome- and phenome-wide association studies of mtCN in 30,666 individuals from the Penn Medicine BioBank (PMBB)—a diverse cohort of largely African and European ancestry. We estimated mtCN in peripheral blood using exome sequence data, taking cell composition into account. We replicated known genetic associations of mtCN in the PMBB and found that their effects are highly correlated between individuals of European and African ancestry. However, the heritability of mtCN was much higher among individuals of largely African ancestry (h2=0.3) compared with European ancestry individuals(h2=0.1). Admixture mapping suggests that there are undiscovered variants underlying mtCN that are differentiated in frequency between individuals with African and European ancestry. We show that mtCN is associated with many health-related phenotypes. We discovered robust associations between mtDNA copy number and diseases of metabolically active tissues, such as cardiovascular disease and liver damage, that were consistent across African and European ancestry individuals. Other associations, such as epilepsy and prostate cancer, were only discovered in either individuals with European or African ancestry but not both. We show that mtCN-phenotype associations can be sensitive to blood cell composition and environmental modifiers, explaining why such associations are inconsistent across studies. Thus, mtCN-phenotype associations must be interpreted with care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100202
JournalHuman Genetics and Genomics Advances
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 13 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s)


  • GWAS
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Penn Medicine Biobank
  • PheWAS
  • heritability
  • mtDNA copy number
  • multi-ancestry

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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