We have analyzed nucleotide sequence variation in an approximately 900-base pair region of the human mitochondrial DNA molecule encompassing the heavy strand origin of replication and the D-loop. Our analysis has focused on nucleotide sequences available from seven humans. Average nucleotide diversity among the sequences is 1.7%, several-fold higher than estimates from restriction endonuclease site variation in mtDNA from these individuals and previously reported for other humans. This disparity is consistent with the rapidly evolving nature of this noncoding region. However, several instances of convergent or parallel gain and loss of restriction sites due to multiple substitutions were observed. In addition, other results suggest that restriction site (as well as pairwise sequence) comparisons may underestimate the total number of substitutions that have occurred since the divergence of two mtDNA sequences from a common ancestral sequence, even at low levels of divergence. This emphasizes the importance of recognizing the large standard errors associated with estimates of sequence variability, particularly when constructing phylogenies among closely related sequences. Analysis of the observed number and direction of substitutions revealed several significant biases, most notably a strand dependence of substitution type and a 32-fold bias favoring transitions over transversions. The results also revealed a significantly nonrandom distribution of nucleotide substitutions and sequence length variation. Significantly more multiple substitutions were observed than expected for these closely related sequences under the assumption of uniform rates of substitution. The bias for transitions has resulted in predominantly convergent or parallel changes among the observed multiple substitutions. There is no convincing evidence that recombination has contributed to the mtDNA sequence diversity we have observed.