More than 200 disease-related mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) point mutations have been reported in the Mitomap (http://www.mitomap.org) database. These mutations can be divided into two groups: mutations affecting mitochondrial protein synthesis, including mutations in tRNA and rRNA genes; and mutations in protein-encoding genes (mRNAs). This review focuses on mutations in mitochondrial genes that encode proteins. These mutations are involved in a broad spectrum of human diseases, including a variety of multisystem disorders as well as more tissue-specific diseases such as isolated myopathy and Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON). Because the mitochondrial genome contains a large number of apparently neutral polymorphisms that have little pathogenic significance, along with secondary homoplasmic mutations that do not have primary disease-causing effect, the pathogenic role of all newly discovered mutations must be rigorously established. A scoring system has been applied to evaluate the pathogenicity of the mutations in mtDNA protein-encoding genes and to review the predominant clinical features and the molecular characteristics of mutations in each mtDNA-encoded respiratory chain complex.