We have previously reported a changed mitochondrial (mt) gene expression in brain from patients with schizophrenia [Schizophr. Res. 14 (1995) 203]; now, we describe the distribution in the mtDNA from lymphocytes of a heteroplasmic sequence variation that was originally found in the mtDNA from the postmortem brain of a patient with schizophrenia. The variant is m.12027T>C and results in the change from isoleucine to threonine at position 423 of the ND4 subunit of NADH-ubiquinone reductase. Using a PCR-RFLP method, we have determined the heteroplasmy as the ratio of variant to total (variant ratio) at m.12027 in 184 controls and 181 patients with schizophrenia as well as 24 postmortem brain samples. The distribution of variants is bimodal having peaks at variant ratios of 0.262 and 0.732. The variant-rich fraction is very significantly associated with schizophrenia in males (47%), while there is only 18% in control males. There are significantly more variant-rich control females (36%) than control males (18%), suggesting that the female population is less sensitive to the presence of a variant in terms of liability to schizophrenia. In variant-rich samples from postmortem brain originating from both sexes, there is an increased superoxide production, suggesting that the variation contributes to oxidative stress. Antioxidant glycosides, such as quercetin rutoside, quench the superoxide production without (in contrast to neuroleptic drugs) interfering with the electron transfer activity of the reductase.