Mutations in the nuclear encoded subunits of mitochondrial complex I (NADH:ubiquinone oxidoreductase) may cause circumscribed cerebral lesions ranging from degeneration of the striatal and brainstem gray matter (Leigh syndrome) to leukodystrophy. We hypothesized that such pattern of regional pathology might be due to local differences in the dependence on complex I function. Using in situ hybridization we investigated the relative expression of 33 nuclear encoded complex I subunits in different brain regions of the mouse at E11.5, E17.5, P1, P11, P28 and adult (12 weeks). With respect to timing and relative intensity of complex I gene expression we found a highly variant pattern in different regions during development. High average expression levels were detected in periods of intense neurogenesis. In cerebellar Purkinje and in hippocampal CA1/CA3 pyramidal neurons we found a second even higher peak during the period of synaptogenesis and maturation. The extraordinary dependence of these structures on complex I gene expression during synaptogenesis is in accord with our recent findings that gamma oscillations--known to be associated with higher cognitive functions of the mammalian brain--strongly depend on the complex I activity. However, with the exception of the mesencephalon, we detected only average complex I expression levels in the striatum and basal ganglia, which does not explain the exquisite vulnerability of these structures in mitochondrial disorders.