Primary coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) deficiency conditions have diverse clinical manifestations that are caused by biallelic variants in genes that regulate or encode proteins involved in the coenzyme Q (CoQ) biosynthesis pathway (CoQ10 synthesis genes). Secondary CoQ10 deficiencies are caused by pathogenic variation in genes not directly related to the CoQ10 biosynthetic pathway or by nongenetic factors such as statin use or fibromyalgia. CoQ10 deficiency has a similar clinical presentation to many mitochondrial diseases. Unlike other mitochondrial diseases, CoQ10 deficiency is treatable, making definitive diagnosis extremely important for proper medical management. Initial laboratory testing often includes creatine kinase (CK) and lactic acid tests. These measurements are useful, but they cannot provide a definitive diagnosis. As such, genetic testing or biochemical detection of CoQ10 deficiency via muscle biopsy is necessary.
Quick Answers for Clinicians
General laboratory tests to measure lactic acid and creatine kinase (CK) can provide useful information in the initial investigation of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) deficiency. However, these tests neither exclude the presence of CoQ10 deficiency nor reveal its etiology. The current gold standard approach for CoQ10 deficiency diagnosis is biochemical measurement of CoQ10 reduction in muscle tissue and histologic examination of muscle biopsy. CoQ10 levels in serum or plasma cannot be used to diagnose deficiency because they are affected by dietary CoQ10 sources. Genetic testing is required for accurate interpretation of biochemical test results and differentiation between primary and secondary disease.
Statins, or hydroxyl-methylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase inhibitors, interfere with the production of a molecular precursor in the coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) biosynthetic pathway. It has been proposed that this may contribute to statin-associated myalgia (SAM), although the actual mechanism of SAM is currently unclear. There are no clinical guidelines that support the use of CoQ10 supplementation for the treatment of SAM at this time.
Indications for Testing
Primary CoQ10 deficiency has a heterogeneous clinical presentation and often demonstrates multisystem involvement. Individuals who present with one or more of the following common clinical phenotypes should be considered for CoQ10 deficiency testing :
- Cerebellar ataxia
- Steroid-resistant nephrotic syndrome
- Severe infantile multisystemic disease
Although these presentations are the most widely recognized, CoQ10 deficiency may also be present in patients with a clinical presentation similar to that of several mitochondrial disorders. Patients who have tested negative for these disorders should be considered for CoQ10 deficiency testing.
Initial nonspecific testing may provide evidence suggestive of CoQ10 deficiency. Clinical evaluation should inform the proper use of these tests. Muscle biopsy and/or genetic testing is necessary to provide a definitive diagnosis.
CK is a nonspecific indicator of muscle inflammation or damage. Elevated levels may indicate CoQ10 deficiency but are not diagnostic. For example, patients who exhibit myopathy often exhibit elevated CK, but those with cerebellar ataxia do not.
Lactic acid levels in plasma are indicative of muscle-damaging processes. Elevated levels may indicate CoQ10 deficiency but are not diagnostic. CoQ10 deficiency may also be present in patients with normal lactic acid levels.
Tissue from a muscle biopsy is the gold standard for evaluation of CoQ10 deficiency, although skin fibroblasts, white blood cells, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), and urine can also be used in some cases. Biopsied muscle tissue should be tested for reduced levels of CoQ10 and reduced activity of complex I+III and complex II+III of the mitochondrial respiratory chain (not performed at ARUP Laboratories). These tests can differentiate CoQ10 deficiency from other disorders with similar clinical findings but cannot differentiate between primary and secondary CoQ10 deficiency.
Routine morphologic studies of muscle tissue can be useful but often do not yield definitive diagnostic information. Lipid accumulation is a common finding in both primary and secondary CoQ10 deficiency.
Primary CoQ10 Deficiency
The diagnosis of primary CoQ10 deficiency can be established by identification of biallelic pathogenic variants in one of the nine CoQ10 synthesis genes (COQ4, COQ6, COQ7, COQ8A, COQ8B, COQ9, PDSS1, or PDSS2).
Secondary CoQ10 Deficiency
The diagnosis of secondary CoQ10 deficiency can be established by identification of biallelic pathogenic variants in genes that cause mitochondrial diseases, oxidative phosphorylation diseases, or other diseases that lead to CoQ10 deficiency.
Coenzyme Q10 Total, Plasma
Although measurement of CoQ10 in plasma is not useful for diagnosis because it is influenced by dietary sources of CoQ10, it can be used to monitor the progress of CoQ10 replacement therapy.
ARUP Lab Tests
Identify muscle inflammation or damage
Identify muscle damage
Preferred test to confirm suspected diagnosis of a mitochondrial disorder caused by a mitochondrial genome (mtDNA) sequence variant(s) in related nuclear genes
Next Generation Sequencing
Monitor replacement therapy in CoQ deficiencies
Salviati L, Trevisson E, Doimo M, et al. Primary Coenzyme Q10 Deficiency. In: Adam MP, Ardinger HH, Pagon RA, et al, editors. GeneReviews, University of Washington; 1993-2020. [Initial Posting: Jan 2017; Accessed: Feb 2020]Online
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