NADH:ubiquinone reductase, the respiratory chain complex I of mitochondria, consists of some 25 nuclear-encoded and seven mitochondrially encoded subunits, and contains as redox groups one FMN, probably one internal ubiquinone and at least four iron-sulphur clusters. We are studying the assembly of the enzyme in Neurospora crassa. The flux of radioactivity in cells that were pulse-labelled with [35S]methionine was followed through immunoprecipitable assembly intermediates into the holoenzyme. Labelled polypeptides were observed to accumulate transiently in a Mr 350,000 intermediate complex. This complex contains all mitochondrially encoded subunits of the enzyme as well as subunits encoded in the nucleus that have no homologous counterparts in a small, merely nuclear-encoded form of the NADH:ubiquinone reductase made by Neurospora crassa cells poisoned with chloramphenicol. With regard to their subunit compositions, the assembly intermediate and small NADH:ubiquinone reductase complement each other almost perfectly to give the subunit composition of the large complex I. These results suggest that two pathways exist in the assembly of complex I that independently lead to the preassembly of two major parts, which subsequently join to form the complex. One preassembled part is related to the small form of NADH:ubiquinone reductase and contributes most of the nuclear-encoded subunits, FMN, three iron-sulphur clusters and the site for the internal ubiquinone. The other part is the assembly intermediate and contributes all mitochondrially encoded subunits, one iron-sulphur cluster and the catalytic site for the substrate ubiquinone. We discuss the results with regard to the evolution of the electron pathway through complex I.