We report here the characterization of a large Chinese family with maternally transmitted aminoglycoside-induced and nonsyndromic deafness. In the absence of aminoglycosides, some matrilineal relatives in this family exhibited late-onset/progressive deafness, with a wide range of severity and age at onset. Notably, the average age at onset of deafness has changed from 55 years (generation II) to 10 years (generation IV). Clinical data reveal that the administration of aminoglycosides can induce or worsen deafness in matrilineal relatives. The age at the time of drug administration appears to be correlated with the severity of hearing loss experienced by affected individuals. Sequence analysis of mitochondrial DNA in this pedigree identified a homoplasmic C-to-T transition at position 1494 (C1494T) in the 12S rRNA gene. The C1494T mutation is expected to form a novel U1494-1555A base pair, which is in the same position as the C1494-1555G pair created by the deafness-associated A1555G mutation, at the highly conserved A site of 12S rRNA. Exposure to a high concentration of paromomycin or neomycin caused a variable but significant average increase in doubling time in lymphoblastoid cell lines derived from four symptomatic and two asymptomatic individuals in this family carrying the C1494T mutation when compared to four control cell lines. Furthermore, a significant decrease in the rate of total oxygen consumption was observed in the mutant cell lines. Thus, our data strongly support the idea that the A site of mitochondrial 12S rRNA is the primary target for aminoglycoside-induced deafness. These results also strongly suggest that the nuclear background plays a role in the aminoglycoside ototoxicity and in the development of the deafness phenotype associated with the C1494T mutation in the mitochondrial 12S rRNA gene.