. The recent success of gene therapy across multiple clinical trials has inspired a great deal of hope regarding the treatment of previously intractable genetic diseases. This optimism has been extended to the prospect of gene therapy for mitochondrial disorders, which are not only particularly severe but also difficult to treat. However, this hope must be tempered by the reality of the mitochondrial organelle, which possesses specific biological properties that complicate genetic manipulation. In this perspective, we will discuss some of these complicating factors, including the unique pathways used to express and import mitochondrial proteins. We will also present some ways in which these challenges can be overcome by genetic manipulation strategies tailored specifically for mitochondrial diseases.
Since their discovery during the end of the 80’s the number of diseases found to be associated with defects in the mitochondrial genome has grown significantly. Organs affected by mutations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) include in decreasing order of vulnerability the brain, skeletal muscle, heart, kidney and liver. Hence neuromuscular and neurodegenerative diseases represent the two largest groups of mtDNA diseases. Despite major advances in understanding mtDNA defects at the genetic and biochemical level, there is however no satisfactory treatment available to the vast majority of patients. This is largely due to the fact that most of these patients have respiratory chain defects, i.e. defects that involve the final common pathway of oxidative metabolism, making it impossible to bypass the defect by administering alternative metabolic carriers of energy. Conventional biochemical treatment having reached an impasse, the exploration of gene therapeutic approaches for patients with mtDNA defects is warranted.
For now mitochondrial gene therapy appears to be only theoretical and speculative. Any possibility for gene replacement is dependent on the development of an efficient mitochondrial transfection vector. In this review we describe the current state of the development of mitochondria-specific DNA delivery systems.