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Mutations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) lead to heteroplasmy, i.e. the intracellular coexistence of wild-type and mutant mtDNA strands, which impact a wide spectrum of diseases but also physiological processes, including endurance exercise performance in athletes. However, the phenotypic consequences of limited levels of naturally-arising heteroplasmy have not been experimentally studied to date. We hence generated a conplastic mouse strain carrying the mitochondrial genome of a AKR/J mouse strain (B6-mtAKR) together with a C57BL/6J nuclear genomic background, leading to >20% heteroplasmy in the origin of light-strand DNA replication (OriL). These conplastic mice demonstrate a shorter lifespan as well as dysregulation of multiple metabolic pathways, culminating in impaired glucose metabolism, compared to wild-type C57BL/6J mice carrying lower levels of heteroplasmy. Our results indicate that physiologically relevant differences in mtDNA heteroplasmy levels at a single, functionally important site impair metabolic health and lifespan in mice.

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