Some mutations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) causing a number of neuromuscular diseases are suggested to arise spontaneously during the life of an individual. To substantiate the extent and the rate of these somatic mutations, mtDNA specimens from post-mortem human heart muscles of subjects in differing age groups were hydrolyzed. 8-Hydroxy-deoxyguanosine (8-OH-dG), a hydroxyl-radical adduct of deoxyguanosine, in mtDNA, was quantitatively determined using a micro high-performance liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry system. In each specimen, the mtDNA with a 7.4 kilo base-pair deletion was quantified by the kinetic polymerase chain reaction method. In association with age, the 8-OH-dG content accumulated exponentially up to 1.5% with a correlative increase in the content of the deleted mtDNA up to 7%. Clear correlation between the 8-OH-dG content in mtDNA and the population of mtDNA with a deletion (r = 0.93, P < 0.01) gives insight into the mechanism for the generation of a large deletion. These results indicate that accumulation of somatically acquired oxygen damage together with age-associated mutations in mtDNA which lead to bioenergetic deficiency and the heart muscle weakness are inevitable in human life.