The discovery that mutations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) can be pathogenic in humans has increased interest in understanding mtDNA maintenance. The functional state of mtDNA requires a great number of factors for gene expression, DNA replication, and DNA repair. These processes are ultimately controlled by the cell nucleus, because the requisite proteins are all encoded by nuclear genes and imported into the mitochondrion. DNA replication and transcription are linked in vertebrate mitochondria because RNA transcripts initiated at the light-strand promoter are the primers for mtDNA replication at the heavy-strand origin. Study of this transcription-primed DNA replication mechanism has led to isolation of key factors involved in mtDNA replication and transcription and to elucidation of unique nucleic acid structures formed at this origin. Because features of a transcription-primed mechanism appear to be conserved in vertebrates, a general model for initiation of vertebrate heavy-strand DNA synthesis is proposed. In many organisms, mtDNA maintenance requires not only faithful mtDNA replication, but also mtDNA repair and recombination. The extent to which these latter two processes are involved in mtDNA maintenance in vertebrates is also appraised.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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