Patients with oxidative phosphorylation (OxPhos) defects causing mitochondrial diseases appear particularly vulnerable to infections. Although OxPhos defects modulate cytokine production in vitro and in animal models, little is known about how circulating leukocytes of patients with inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) defects respond to acute immune challenges. In a small cohort of healthy controls (n=21) and patients (n=12) with either the m.3243A>G mutation or single, large-scale mtDNA deletions, we examined: i) cytokine responses (IL-6, TNF-α, IL-1β) in response to acute lipopolysaccharide (LPS) exposure, and ii) sensitivity to the immunosuppressive effects of glucocorticoid signaling (dexamethasone) on cytokine production. In dose-response experiments to determine the half-maximal effective LPS concentration (EC50), relative to controls, leukocytes from patients with mtDNA deletions showed 174 -179% lower responses for IL-6 and IL-1β (pIL-6=0.031, pIL-1β=0.009). Moreover, IL-6 response to LPS in presence of GC was also blunted in cells from patients with mtDNA deletions (pIL-6=0.006), but not in leukocytes from patients with the m.3243A>G mutation. Overall, these ex vivo data provide preliminary evidence that some systemic OxPhos defects may compromise immune cytokine responses and glucocorticoid sensitivity. Further work in larger cohorts is needed to define the nature of immune dysregulation in patients with mitochondrial disease, and their potential implications for disease phenotypes.
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