Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations associated with rhabdomyolysis are rare but have been described in sporadic cases with mutations in the cytochrome b and cytochrome c oxidase (COX) genes and in 3 cases with tRNALeu mutation. We report a novel heteroplasmic G6708A nonsense mutation in the mtDNA COI gene encoding COX subunit I in a 30-year-old woman with muscle weakness, pain, fatigue, and one episode of rhabdomyolysis. Histochemical examination of muscle biopsy specimens revealed reduced COX activity in the majority of the muscle fibers (approximately 90%) and frequent ragged red fibers. Biochemical analysis showed a marked and isolated COX deficiency. Analysis of DNA extracted from single fibers revealed higher levels of the mutation in COX-deficient fibers (> 95%) compared with COX-positive fibers (1%-80%). The mutation was not detected in a skin biopsy, cultured myoblasts, or blood leukocytes. Nor was it identified in blood leukocytes from the asymptomatic mother, indicating a de novo mutation that arose after germ layer differentiation. Western blot analysis and immunohistochemical staining revealed that reduced levels of COX subunit I were accompanied by reduced levels of other mtDNA encoded subunits, as well as nuclear DNA encoded subunit IV, supporting the concept that COX subunit I is essential for the assembly of complex IV in the respiratory chain.