Non-insulin-dependent (type II) diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) is characterized by hyperglycaemia and insulin resistance, and affects nearly 5% of the general population. Inherited factors are important for its development, but the genes involved are unknown. We have identified a large pedigree in which NIDDM, in combination with a sensorineural hearing loss, is maternally inherited. The maternal inheritance and the observed decrease in mitochondrial enzyme activities of the respiratory chain indicate a genetic defect in the mitochondrial DNA. An A to G transition was identified at nucleotide 3,243, a conserved position in the mitochondrial gene for tRNA(Leu)(UUR). This mutation cosegregates with the disease in this family and is absent in controls, and indicates that a point mutation in mitochondrial DNA is a pathogenetic factor for NIDDM.