Starting from a cohort of 50 NADH-oxidoreductase (complex I) deficient patients, we carried out the systematic sequence analysis of all mitochondrially encoded complex I subunits (ND1 to ND6 and ND4L) in affected tissues. This approach yielded the unexpectedly high rate of 20% mutation identification in our series. Recurrent heteroplasmic mutations included two hitherto unreported (T10158C and T14487C) and three previously reported mutations (T10191C, T12706C and A13514G) in children with Leigh or Leigh-like encephalopathy. The recurrent mutations consistently involved T-->C transitions (p<10(-4)). This study supports the view that an efficient molecular screening should be based on an accurate identification of respiratory chain enzyme deficiency.