An A to G transition mutation at nucleotide pair 8344 in human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has been identified as the cause of MERRF. The mutation alters the T psi C loop of the tRNA(Lys) gene and creates a CviJI restriction site, providing a simple molecular diagnostic test for the disease. This mutation was present in three independent MERRF pedigrees and absent in 75 controls, altered a conserved nucleotide, and was heteroplasmic. All MERRF patients and their less-affected maternal relatives had between 2% and 27% wild-type mtDNAs and showed an age-related association between genotype and phenotype. This suggests that a small percentage of normal mtDNAs has a large protective effect on phenotype. This mutation provides molecular confirmation that some forms of epilepsy are the result of deficiencies in mitochondrial energy production.