We report here the clinical, genetic, and molecular characterization of three Chinese families (WZ4, WZ5, and WZ6) with Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON). Clinical and genetic evaluations revealed the variable severity and age-of-onset in visual impairment in these families. Penetrances of visual impairment in these Chinese families were 33.3%, 35.7%, and 35.5%, respectively, with an average 34.8%. Furthermore, the average age-at-onset in those Chinese families was 17, 20, and 18 years. In addition, the ratios between affected male and female matrilineal relatives in these Chinese families were 3:0, 1:1, and 1.2:1, respectively. Sequence analysis of the complete mitochondrial genomes in these pedigrees showed the distinct sets of mtDNA polymorphism, in addition to the identical G11778A mutation associated with LHON in many families. The fact that mtDNA of those pedigrees belonged to different haplogroups F1, D4, and M10 suggested that the G11778A mutation occurred sporadically and multiplied through evolution of the mtDNA in China. However, there was the absence of functionally significant mutations in tRNA and rRNAs or secondary LHON mutations in these Chinese families. The I187T mutation in the ND1, the S99A mutation in the A6, the V254I in CO3, and I58V in ND6 mutation, showing high evolutional conservation, may contribute to the phenotypic expression of the G11778A mutation in the WZ6 pedigree. By contrast, none of mtDNA variants are evolutionarily conserved and implicated to have significantly functional consequence in WZ4 and WZ5 pedigrees. Apparently, these variants do not have a potential modifying role in the development of visual impairment associated with G11778A mutation in those two families. Thus, nuclear modifier gene(s) or environmental factor(s) seem to account for the penetrance and expressivity of LHON in these three Chinese families carrying the G11778A mutation.