MERRF (Myoclonic Epilepsy and Ragged-Red Fibres) syndrome is one of the maternally inherited diseases for which a mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) point mutation has recently been identified. The mutation is always heteroplasmic, that is normal and mutant mtDNA coexist within the same individual. We studied mtDNA heteroplasmy in two families with MERRF syndrome, using a denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis technique that avoids the errors in the evaluation of wild/mutant mtDNA ratios caused by restriction enzyme cutting in the situation of amplification of a heteroplasmic DNA. In two patients, the proportion of muscle mutant mtDNA was in agreement with the severity of muscle mitochondrial proliferation, energy defect and fibre type I predominance. In nine patients from three generations of one family, mutant mtDNA proportion in leukocytes was in relative agreement with the clinical severity of the disease. Transmission of mutant mtDNA through these three generations did not show any tendency toward homoplasmy. Homogeneity of the mutant mtDNA proportion among different tissues from one patient was demonstrated in brain, liver, muscle and heart but a possibility of divergence of the mutant mtDNA proportion during mitosis was documented in cultured skin fibroblasts.