The complete DNA sequence of the rRNA genes of mouse L cell mtDNA provides a basis for the examination of the nucleotide sequence of this region in a mutant mouse cell line that is resistant to chloramphenicol, a known inhibitor of mitochondrial protein synthesis. Resistance to chloramphenicol (CAPr) is conferred by a cytoplasmic determinant that is linked to mtDNA restriction endonuclease site polymorphisms. We have determined the sequence of a 212-nucleotide region of mtDNA from a CAPr mouse cell line that encodes a portion of the 1582-nucleotide large rRNA. This sequence is located 107-318 nucleotides from the 5' end of the heavy strand coding sequence, which corresponds to the 3' end of the rRNA. There is a single nucleotide difference in the large rRNA gene from CAPr cells, an A-to-G transition 243 nucleotides from the 5' end of the coding sequence. This single transition is located within a region of 10 nucleotides tht is otherwise completely homologous to human and yeast mitochondrial large rRNAs and Escherichia coli 23S rRNA and is positioned immediately adjacent to a single nucleotide transversion known to occur in a yeast CAPr mutant. This characterization of a mammalian mitochondrial mutant at the nucleotide level directly demonstrates that a mutant phenotype may result from a single mtDNA nucleotide change in an animal cell.