A large Queensland family has an extreme form of Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON) in which several neurological abnormalities and an infantile encephalopathy are present in addition to the characteristic ophthalmological changes. Sequence analysis of the seven mitochondrial genes encoding subunits of respiratory chain complex I (NADH-ubiquinone oxidoreductase) reveals two novel features of the etiology of this mitochondrial genetic disease. The first conclusion from these studies is that the ophthalmological and neurological deficits in this family are produced by a mutation at nucleotide 4160 of the ND1 gene. This nucleotide alteration results in the substitution of proline for the highly conserved leucine residue at position 285 of the ND1 protein. Secondary-structure analysis predicts that the proline replacement disrupts a small alpha helix in a hydrophilic loop. All nine family members analyzed were homoplasmic for this mutation. The second major result from these studies is that the members of one branch of this family carry, at nucleotide 4136 of the same gene, a second mutation, also homoplasmic, which produces a cysteine-for-tyrosine replacement at position 277. The clinical and biochemical phenotypes of the family members indicate that this second nucleotide substitution may function as an intragenic suppressor mutation which ameliorates the neurological abnormalities and complex I deficiency.