Diagnosis of respiratory chain defects in cultured skin fibroblasts is a difficult diagnostic procedure. We investigated the feasibility of using survival of skin fibroblasts in culture medium with galactose as the major carbon source as a method of quickly diagnosing cell lines that were compromised in oxidative metabolism. We found that cells from patients with most forms of cytochrome oxidase deficiency, cells with complex I deficiency, cells with multiple respiratory chain defects and cells with severe pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) complex deficiency failed to survive when subcultured into galactose (5 mM) medium. Cells from patients with Lebers hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON), Kearns-Sayre syndrome (KSS), myoclonus-epilepsy-lactic acidosis-stroke (MELAS), the hepatic form of cytochrome oxidase deficiency, and mild PDH complex deficiency survived well in galactose (5 mM)-containing medium. This could be used as a rapid screening test for skin fibroblasts with major oxidative defects.