Human biallelic MFN2 mutations induce mitochondrial dysfunction, upper body adipose hyperplasia, and suppression of leptin expression

23 Aug 2017

MFN2 encodes mitofusin 2, a membrane-bound mediator of mitochondrial membrane fusion and inter-organelle communication. MFN2 mutations cause axonal neuropathy, with associated lipodystrophy only occasionally noted, however homozygosity for the p.Arg707Trp mutation was recently associated with upper body adipose overgrowth. We describe similar massive adipose overgrowth with suppressed leptin expression in four further patients with biallelic MFN2 mutations and at least one p.Arg707Trp allele. Overgrown tissue was composed of normal-sized, UCP1-negative unilocular adipocytes, with mitochondrial network fragmentation, disorganised cristae, and increased autophagosomes. There was strong transcriptional evidence of mitochondrial stress signalling, increased protein synthesis, and suppression of signatures of cell death in affected tissue, whereas mitochondrial morphology and gene expression were normal in skin fibroblasts. These findings suggest that specific MFN2 mutations cause tissue-selective mitochondrial dysfunction with increased adipocyte proliferation and survival, confirm a novel form of excess adiposity with paradoxical suppression of leptin expression, and suggest potential targeted therapies.