We have defined the genetic defect in a large family first described in one of the earliest reports of suspected mitochondrial myopathy, as the mutation T14709C in the mitochondrial transfer RNA(Glu) (mt-tRNA(Glu)) gene. Extraordinarily, this mutation has attained homoplasmy (100% mutated mt-tRNA(Glu)) on at least three independent occasions in this family and has done so in one individual who remains asymptomatic with no clinical evidence of disease. Heteroplasmy (dual populations of mutated and wild-type mtDNA) usually is regarded as one of the primary diagnostic criteria for pathogenicity and previous reports of the T14709C mutation detail heteroplasmy in a variety of tissues. In contrast, homoplasmy of mt-tRNA mutations generally has been regarded as evidence of a benign nature, with rare exceptions that result in organ-specific phenotypes. Discovering that T14709C, a common and severe mt-tRNA mutation, can attain homoplasmy without symptoms or clinical signs of disease has profound implications for the identification and prevalence of other pathogenic mt-tRNA mutations. Furthermore, variation in phenotype between homoplasmic individuals implies a crucial contribution from the nuclear genetic environment in determining the clinical outcome of mt-tRNA mutations.