Mutational damage to human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) can cause disorders in oxidative phosphorylation; speculation that such damage is involved in degenerative diseases and aging is common. We have detected deletions in mouse mtDNA which resemble those found in elderly humans or patients with certain mtDNA disorders. Five different mtDNA deletions, predicted from the positions of short, direct DNA repeats, were present in aged, but not young, mice. Deleted regions were surrounded by either exact or inexact repeats and occurred in both the major and minor regions of the mtDNA genome. The abundance of a particular deletion was generally related to the thermodynamic stability of the bounding repeat sequence. Deletions in aged mice were present at low levels (less than 0.01% of total mtDNA). However, in contrast to results from aged humans, deletions were more abundant in liver than in brain, heart, or skeletal muscle. These results make it possible to predict the location and relative abundance of deletions in any sequenced mtDNA, including inbred mouse strains differing in inherent natural lifespan. The inbred mouse model will allow a critical examination of the relationship between the presence and abundance of mtDNA deletions and the aging process.