We have studied complex I (NADH-ubiquinone reductase) defects of the mitochondrial respiratory chain in 2 infants who died in the neonatal period from 2 different neurological forms of severe neonatal lactic acidosis. Specific and marked decrease in complex I activity was documented in muscle, liver, and cultured skin fibroblasts. Biochemical characterization and study of the genetic origin of this defect were performed using cultured fibroblasts. Immunodetection of 6 nuclear DNA-encoded (20, 23, 24, 30, 49, and 51 kDa) and 1 mitochondrial DNA-encoded (ND1) complex I subunits in fibroblast mitochondria revealed 2 distinct patterns. In 1 patient, complex I contained reduced amounts of the 24- and 51-kDa subunits and normal amounts of all the other investigated subunits. In the second patient, amounts of all the investigated subunits were severely decreased. The data suggest partial or extensive impairment of complex I assembly in both patients. Cell fusion experiments between 143B206 rho degrees cells, fully depleted of mitochondrial DNA, and fibroblasts from both patients led to phenotypic complementation of the complex I defects in mitochondria of the resulting cybrid cells. These results indicate that the complex I defects in the 2 reported cases are due to nuclear gene mutations.