JOURNAL ARTICLE
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Ultrastructural examination of skin biopsies may assist in diagnosing mitochondrial cytopathy when muscle biopsies yield negative results.

Ultrastructural evaluation of skin biopsies has been utilized for diagnosis of mitochondrial disease. This study investigates how frequently skin biopsies reveal mitochondrial abnormalities, correlates skin and muscle biopsy findings, and describes clinical diagnoses rendered following the evaluation. A retrospective review of surgical pathology reports from 1990 to 2015 identified skin biopsies examined by electron microscopy for suspected metabolic disease. A total of 630 biopsies were included from 615 patients. Of these patients, 178 also underwent a muscle biopsy. Of the 630 skin biopsies, 75 (12%) showed ultrastructural abnormalities and 34 (5%) specifically showed mitochondrial abnormalities including increased size (n=27), reduced or abnormal cristae (n=23), dense matrices (n=20), and increased number (n=8). Additional findings included lysosomal abnormalities (n=13), lipid accumulation (n=2) or glycogen accumulation (n=1). Of the 34 patients with mitochondrial abnormalities on skin biopsy, 20 also had muscle biopsies performed and nine showed abnormalities suggestive of a mitochondrial disorder including absent cytochrome oxidase staining (n=2), increased subsarcolemmal NADH, SDH, or cytochrome oxidase staining (n=1), or ultrastructural findings including large mitochondrial size (n=5), abnormal mitochondrial structure (n=5), and increased mitochondrial number (n=4). The most common presenting symptoms were intellectual disability (n=13), seizures (n=12), encephalopathy (n=9), and gastrointestinal disturbances (n=9). At last known follow-up, 12 patients had a definitive diagnosis of a mitochondrial disorder. One patient each had Complex I deficiency, Complex III deficiency, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, pyruvate dehydrogenase deficiency, and Phelan-McDermid syndrome. Our results suggest that skin biopsy sometimes yields diagnostic clues suggestive of a mitochondrial cytopathy in cases with a negative muscle biopsy.

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