Volume 1142, Issue 1 p. 133-158

Mitochondrial Encephalopathy, Lactic Acidosis, and Strokelike Episodes

Basic Concepts, Clinical Phenotype, and Therapeutic Management of MELAS Syndrome

First published: 23 October 2008
Citations: 247
Address for correspondence: Douglas M. Sproule, Columbia University, Pediatric Neurology, 180 Fort Washington Ave., Harkness Pavilion, 5th floor, New York, NY 10032. Voice: 212-342-3679; fax: 212-305-1253. [email protected]


Since the initial description almost 25 years ago, the syndrome of mitochondrial encephalopathy, lactic acidosis, and strokelike episodes (MELAS) has been a useful model to study the complex interplay of factors that define mitochondrial disease. This syndrome, most commonly caused by an A-to-G transition mutation at position 3243 of the mitochondrial genome, is typified by characteristic neurological manifestations including seizures, encephalopathy, and strokelike episodes, as well as other frequent secondary manifestations including short stature, cognitive impairment, migraines, depression, cardiomyopathy, cardiac conduction defects, and diabetes mellitus. In this review, we discuss the history, pathogenesis, clinical features, and diagnostic and management strategies of mitochondrial disease in general and of MELAS in particular. We explore features of mitochondrial genetics, including the concepts of heteroplasmy, mitotic segregation, and threshold effect, as a basis for understanding the variability and complicated inheritance patterns seen with this group of diseases. We also describe systemic manifestations of MELAS-associated mutations, including cardiac, renal, endocrine, gastrointestinal, and endothelial abnormalities and pathology, as well as the hypothetical role of derangements to COX enzymatic function in driving the unique pathology and clinical manifestations of MELAS. Although therapeutic options for MELAS and other mitochondrial diseases remain limited, and recent trials have been disappointing, we also consider current and potential therapeutic modalities.