While the majority of DNA is enclosed within the nucleus, the mitochondria also contain their own, separate DNA, the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Mutations in mtDNA are associated with various human diseases, demonstrating the importance of mtDNA. Intensive studies over the last 18 years have demonstrated the presence of two distinct classes of mtDNA replication intermediates in mammals. One involves leadingstrand DNA synthesis in the absence of synchronous lagging-strand DNA synthesis. Currently there are competing models in which the lagging-strand template is either systematically hybridized to processed mitochondrial transcripts, or coated with protein, until the lagging-strand DNA synthesis takes place. The other class of mtDNA replication intermediates has many properties of conventional, coupled leading- and lagging- strand DNA synthesis. Additionally, the highly unusual arrangement of DNA in human heart mitochondria suggests a third mechanism of replication. These findings indicate that the mtDNA replication systems of humans and other mammals are far more complex than previously thought, and thereby will require further research to understand the full picture of mtDNA replication.
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