During a 4-year period 1984 to 1988, 20 children referred with manifestations of central nervous system or neuromuscular disease combined with hyperlactatemia were found to have a mitochondrial disease. Each diagnosis was based on the results of thorough biochemical and morphologic investigations. The patients were separated into one series with mainly encephalopathy (n = 14) and another with mainly myopathy (n = 6). The patients with encephalopathy had the following syndromes: Kearns-Sayre (n = 2), MERRF (myoclonus epilepsy and ragged red fibers; n = 2), MELAS (mitochondrial myopathy, encephalopathy, lactic acidosis, and strokelike episodes; n = 3), Alpers (n = 3), Leigh (n = 1), and other variants (n = 3). In patients with myopathy, three had hypertrophic nonobstructive cardiomyopathy. Ultrastructural abnormalities of mitochondria were the most common morphologic changes in the muscle biopsies. Complex I deficiency was most common in the patients with encephalopathy. All of the patients with myopathy had complex IV deficiency. Mutations of mitochondrial DNA were found in six patients with encephalopathy. We conclude that identification of defects at the DNA level and determination of the phenotypic expression with clinical, morphologic, and biochemical methods are fundamental for future rational classification of mitochondrial disorders.