Cardiac data in adults with mitochondrial encephalomyopathy, lactic acidosis, and strokelike episodes (MELAS syndrome) or asymptomatic gene carriers with the mitochondrial deoxyribonucleic acid adenine-to-guanine point mutation at nucleotide pair 3243 are scarce. Twelve subjects (mean age 35 +/- 13 years), 8 with MELAS syndrome (patients) and 4 asymptomatic gene carriers (carriers), were enrolled in the study. Each subject underwent electrocardiography, exercise testing, Holter monitoring, echocardiography, and genetic and biochemical analysis for respiratory chain enzyme activity (complex I rest activity) in skeletal muscle. On electrocardiography and Holter monitoring, none of the subjects had evidence of preexcitation, cardiac arrhythmias, or conduction abnormalities. Patients had significantly lower (42 +/- 17% from normal vs 103 +/- 14%, p <0.02) exercise tolerance. All but 1 of the patients and none of the gene carriers had ragged red fibers on muscle biopsy. The mean percentage of gene mutation in skeletal muscle tended to be higher in patients (53 +/- 19%, range 19% to 73%) compared with carriers (33 +/- 20%, range 15% to 62%). Mean complex I rest activity in patients (36 +/- 18%, range 10% to 58%) was significantly (p <0.01) lower compared with carriers (120 +/- 60%, range 72% to 205%). Left ventricular (LV) abnormalities were confined to patients with MELAS syndrome. Two patients had LV hypertrophy, 5 had LV systolic abnormalities, and 5 had LV diastolic dysfunction. Apart from 1 patient with an isolated LV diastolic abnormality, all patients with LV abnormalities had ragged red fibers. Patients with abnormal systolic LV function had a trend toward a higher percentage of mutated skeletal muscle (59.7 +/- 10.7% vs 35.8 +/- 21.3%, p <0.10) and significantly lower complex I rest activity (26.7 +/- 14.0% vs 97.8% +/- 57.9, p <0.01). In conclusion, none of the MELAS gene carriers had cardiac abnormalities, whereas most patients with the MELAS phenotype, particularly those with ragged red fibers, had LV involvement.