We report the electron transfer properties of the NADH:ubiquinone oxidoreductase complex of the respiratory chain (Complex I) in mitochondria of cells derived from LHON patients with two different mutations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). The mutations occur in the mtDNA genes coding for the ND1 and ND4 subunits of Complex I. The ND1/3460 mutation exhibits 80% reduction in rotenone-sensitive and ubiquinone-dependent electron transfer activity, whereas the proximal NADH dehydrogenase activity of the Complex is unaffected. This is in accordance with the proposal that the ND1 subunit interacts with rotenone and ubiquinone. In contrast, the ND4/11778 mutation had no effect on electron transfer activity of the Complex in inner mitochondrial membrane preparations; also Km for NADH and NADH dehydrogenase activity were unaffected. However, in isolated mitochondria with the ND4 mutation, the rate of oxidation of NAD-linked substrates, but not of succinate, was significantly decreased. This suggests that the ND4 subunit might be involved in specific aggregation of NADH-dependent dehydrogenases and Complex I, which may result in fast ('solid state') electron transfer from the former to the latter.