The Tas2 and Vic2 Australian families are affected with a variant of Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON). The risk of developing the optic neuropathy shows strict maternal inheritance, and the ophthalmological changes in affected family members are characteristic of LHON. However, in contrast to the common form of the disease, members of these two families show a high frequency of vision recovery. To ascertain the mitochondrial genetic etiology of the LHON in these families, both (a) the the nucleotide sequences of the seven mitochondrial genes encoding subunits of respiratory-chain complex I and (b) the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene were determined for representatives of both families. Neither family carries any of the previously identified primary mitochondrial LHON mutations: ND4/11778, ND1/3460, or ND1/4160. Instead, both LHON families carry multiple nucleotide changes in the mitochondrial complex I genes, which produce conservative amino acid changes. From the available sequence data, it is inferred that the Vic2 and Tas2 LHON families are phylogenetically related to each other and to a cluster of LHON families in which mutations in the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene have been hypothesized to play a primary etiological role. However, sequencing analysis establishes that the Vic2 and Tas2 LHON families do not carry these cytochrome b mutations. There are two hypotheses to account for the unusual mitochondrial genetic etiology of the LHON in the Tas2 and Vic2 LHON families. One possibility is that there is a primary LHON mutation within the mitochondrial genome but that it is at a site that was not included in the sequencing analyses. Alternatively, the disease in these families may result from the cumulative effects of multiple secondary LHON mutations that have less severe phenotypic consequences.