It is well known that morphological changes at the cellular level occur in muscle of patients with mitochondrial myopathy (MM), but changes in muscle structure with fat infiltration and gross variation of muscle fiber size with giant fibers, normally encountered in the muscular dystrophies, have typically not been associated with mitochondrial disease. We investigated gross and microscopic muscle morphology in thigh muscles by muscle biopsy and MRI in 16 patients with MM, and compared findings with those obtained in muscular dystrophy patients and healthy subjects. Changes of muscle architecture, similar to those found in the group of muscular dystrophy patients occurred consistently in patients with a high mutation load for single, largescale deletions of mtDNA, but were absent in all patients with the 3243A-->G mtDNA point mutation. Dystrophic changes of muscle architecture were also present in one MM patient with a unique, sporadic mutation in the mtDNA tRNA(Met) gene. These findings provide evidence that morphological changes in muscle of MM patients are common and may resemble those of muscular dystrophies, but that development of dystrophic-like changes in muscle relate to genotype.