A family is described with familial myoclonic epilepsy associated with mitochondrial myopathy. The disorder follows a maternal inheritance pattern consistent with a mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutation. The large kindred permitted exclusion of autosomal dominant, recessive, and X-linked patterns of transmission. Several characteristics of the inheritance and variability of expression within the pedigree are consistent with recently acquired knowledge about the genetics of human mtDNA. The clinical spectrum of disease is compatible with a proportionality model of mutant and wild-type mtDNAs. Muscle biopsies of affected patients showed an increased number of abnormal muscle mitochondria. Serum levels of pyruvate or pyruvate and lactate were elevated. The most severely affected patient had constant myoclonic jerking, dementia, ataxia, spasticity, hearing loss, and hypoventilation. Cerebral dysfunction in patients with mild involvement was marked by prominent photic driving seen on electroencephalograms and high-amplitude visual and somatosensory evoked responses but no myoclonus, ataxia, or dementia. The individual clinical features of the disease worsen over time for all patients; however, mildly affected patients have not become moderately affected and moderately affected patients have not become severely affected.