One possible cause for the neuronal loss in sporadic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (S-ALS) is an increase of free radicals, which may produce oxidative damage to susceptible biomolecules, which, in turn, can damage the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Following laser microdissection of single motor neurons from paraffin-embedded autopsy tissue, we analyzed the presence of a common mtDNA deletion, the 5 kb common deletion (CD). Spinal cord neurons showed slightly higher CD detection rate in patients than controls (94% vs 75%). No significant differences were found between patients and controls for neurons derived from other motor or non-motor regions. A PCR assay of serial DNA dilutions (10-fold) showed no CD level differences between motor neurons in S-ALS and controls. These data suggest that neuronal death in S-ALS is not associated with significant accumulation of mtDNA deletions.