The molecular pathogenic mechanism of the human mitochondrial diseases neurogenic ataxia and retinitis pigmentosa and maternally inherited Leigh syndrome was determined in cultured human cells harboring homoplasmic T8993G/T8993C point mutations in the mitochondrial ATP6 gene, which encodes subunit 6 of the F1F0-ATP synthase. Immunoprecipitation and blue native electrophoresis showed that F1F0-ATP synthase assembles correctly in homoplasmic mutant mitochondria. The mutants exhibited a tendency to have an increased sensitivity to subsaturating amounts of oligomycin; this provided further evidence for complete assembly and tight coupling between the F1 and F0 sectors. Furthermore, human ATP synthase dimers and higher homo-oligomers were observed for the first time, and it was demonstrated that the mutant enzymes retain enough structural integrity to oligomerize. A reproducible increase in the proportion of oligomeric-to-monomeric enzyme was found for the T8993G mutant suggesting that F1F0 oligomerization is regulated in vivo and that it can be modified in pathological conditions. Despite correct assembly, the T8993G mutation produced a 60% inhibition in ATP synthesis turnover. In vitro denaturing conditions showed F1F0 instability conferred by the mutations, although this instability did not produce enzyme disassembly in the conditions used for determination of ATP synthesis. Taken together, the data show that the primary molecular pathogenic mechanism of these deleterious human mitochondrial mutations is functional inhibition in a correctly assembled ATP synthase. Structural instability may play a role in the progression of the disease under potentially denaturing conditions, as discussed.