A T --> G mutation at position 8993 in human mitochondrial DNA is associated with the syndrome neuropathy, ataxia, and retinitis pigmentosa and with a maternally inherited form of Leigh's syndrome. The mutation substitutes an arginine for a leucine at amino acid position 156 in ATPase 6, a component of the F0 portion of the mitochondrial ATP synthase complex. Fibroblasts harboring high levels of the T8993G mutation have decreased ATP synthesis activity, but do not display any growth defect under standard culture conditions. Combining the notions that cells with respiratory chain defects grow poorly in medium containing galactose as the major carbon source, and that resistance to oligomycin, a mitochondrial inhibitor, is associated with mutations in the ATPase 6 gene in the same transmembrane domain where the T8993G amino acid substitution is located, we created selective culture conditions using galactose and oligomycin that elicited a pathological phenotype in T8993G cells and that allowed for the rapid selection of wild-type over T8993G mutant cells. We then generated cytoplasmic hybrid clones containing heteroplasmic levels of the T8993G mutation, and showed that selection in galactose-oligomycin caused a significant increase in the fraction of wild-type molecules (from 16 to 28%) in these cells.