Valproic acid triggers increased mitochondrial biogenesis in POLG-deficient fibroblasts

Kamil S. Sitarz, Hannah R. Elliott, Betül S. Karaman, Caroline Relton, Patrick F. Chinnery, Rita Horvath*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Valproic acid (VPA) is a widely used antiepileptic drug and also prescribed to treat migraine, chronic headache and bipolar disorder. Although it is usually well tolerated, a severe hepatotoxic reaction has been repeatedly reported after VPA administration. A profound toxic reaction on administration of VPA has been observed in several patients carrying POLG mutations, and heterozygous genetic variation in POLG has been strongly associated with VPA-induced liver toxicity. Here we studied the effect of VPA in fibroblasts of five patients carrying pathogenic mutations in the POLG gene. VPA administration caused a significant increase in the expression of POLG and several regulators of mitochondrial biogenesis. It was further supported by elevated mtDNA copy numbers. The effect of VPA on mitochondrial biogenesis was observed in both control and patient cell lines, but the capacity of mutant POLG to increase the expression of mitochondrial genes and to increase mtDNA copy numbers was less effective. No evidence of substantive differences in DNA methylation across the genome was observed between POLG mutated patients and controls. Given the marked perturbation of gene expression observed in the cell lines studied, we conclude that altered DNA methylation is unlikely to make a major contribution to POLG-mediated VPA toxicity. Our data provide experimental evidence that VPA triggers increased mitochondrial biogenesis by altering the expression of several mitochondrial genes; however, the capacity of POLG-deficient liver cells to address the increased metabolic rate caused by VPA administration is significantly impaired.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-63
Number of pages7
JournalMolecular Genetics and Metabolism
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Methylation
  • MtDNA
  • POLG
  • Toxicity
  • Valproic acid (VPA)


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