In six patients with mitochondrial (encephalo-) myopathy investigations of skeletal muscle revealed a defect of pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDHC) in combination with one or more respiratory chain complex deficiencies. A combination of defects of this kind has not been reported previously. Five of the six patients presented within the 1st year of life and had a severe clinical course. Intrafamilial variability of the clinical course in dizygotic twins both suffering from a cytochrome c oxidase deficiency and one of them also from a PDHC deficiency suggests an additional effect of PDHC deficiency on the clinical symptoms. Immunoblot studies of PDHC in five of the patients revealed no abnormalities in their subunit pattern, rendering a defect of mitochondrial protein import or assembly unlikely. The finding of a combined PDHC and respiratory chain deficiency has implications for the diagnostic approach, for therapy and genetic counselling. The exact pathogenetic mechanism of this combination of defects remains to be elucidated.