Autonomic, functional, skeletal muscle, and cardiac abnormalities are associated with increased ergoreflex sensitivity in mitochondrial disease

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Mitochondrial disease (MD) is a genetic disorder affecting skeletal muscles, with possible myocardial disease. The ergoreflex, sensitive to skeletal muscle work, regulates ventilatory and autonomic responses to exercise. We hypothesized the presence of an increased ergoreflex sensitivity in MD patients, its association with abnormal ventilatory and autonomic responses, and possibly with subclinical cardiac involvement.

Methods and results

Twenty-five MD patients (aged 46 ± 3 years, 32% male) with skeletal myopathy but without known cardiac disease, underwent a thorough evaluation including BNPs, galectin-3, soluble suppression of tumorigenesis 2 (sST2), high sensitivity troponin T/I, catecholamines, ECG, 24-h ECG recording, cardiopulmonary exercise testing, echocardiography, cardiac/muscle magnetic resonance (C/MMR), and ergoreflex assessment. Thirteen age- and sex-matched healthy controls were chosen. Among these myopathic patients, subclinical cardiac damage was detected in up to 80%, with 44% showing fibrosis at CMR. Ergoreflex sensitivity was markedly higher in patients than in controls (64% vs. 37%, P < 0.001), and correlated with muscle fat to water ratio and extracellular volume at MMR (both P < 0.05). Among patients, ergoreflex sensitivity was higher in those with cardiac involvement (P = 0.034). Patients showed a lower peak oxygen consumption (VO2/kg) than controls (P < 0.001), as well as ventilatory inefficiency (P = 0.024). Ergoreflex sensitivity correlated with reduced workload and peak VO2/kg (both P < 0.001), and several indicators of autonomic imbalance (P < 0.05). Plasma norepinephrine was the unique predictor of myocardial fibrosis at univariate analysis (P < 0.05).


Skeletal myopathy in MD is characterized by enhanced ergoreflex sensitivity, which is associated with a higher incidence of cardiac involvement, exercise intolerance, and sympathetic activation.

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