Antibodies have been raised against synthetic peptides corresponding to several computer-predicted epitopes of three mtDNA-encoded subunits, ND4, ND5 and ND6, of the human respiratory chain NADH dehydrogenase (Complex I). Antibodies were characterized by a sensitive immunoblotting assay using proteins from human skeletal muscle mitochondria and by immunoprecipitation of radio-labeled HeLa cell mitochondrial translation products. Only antibodies against two of six selected peptides of the ND4 subunit, i.e., the C-terminal peptide and an internal peptide close to the C-terminus, reacted in both assays with the subunit. Antibodies raised against an internal peptide close to the N-terminus of the ND5 subunit and antibodies raised against an internal epitope of the ND6 subunit also reacted in both the immunoblotting and immunoprecipitation assays. The antibodies described above and other Complex I subunit- or holoenzyme-specific antibodies were used to investigate the subunit deficiencies of the respiratory NADH dehydrogenase in the skeletal muscle of patients affected by mitochondrial myopathies associated with Complex I defects. The reduction in enzyme activity correlated in an immunoblot assay with a decrease of four mtDNA-encoded subunits of the enzyme, as well as with a decrease of other subunits of Complex I encoded in the nDNA. The present work provides the first evidence of a decrease in NADH dehydrogenase subunits encoded in the mitochondrial genome in myopathy patients.