The commonly held notion that Rett syndrome (RS) is a neurodegenerative disorder with normal early development was examined by an epidemiological survey and review of medical records and serial neurological and development evaluations. In some subjects, deviance from normal development was evident from the perinatal period, and gradually became more prominent with age. These findings are convincing when seen in conjunction with a reduction in velocity of brain growth, as early as 2-4 months of life, well before the recognition of gross neurological deficits. Neurodevelopmental evaluations provide no indication that there is progressive loss of adaptive behaviors, or communication skills to indicate a neurodegenerative process. Taken together with the known neuropathological and neurochemical changes in RS brain we hypothesize that RS is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which has a genetic basis, and affects subsets of neurons and their connections during a period of vigorous brain growth, when synapse formation and pruning are at a peak. Studies of mitochondrial (mt) DNA in brain to understand the genetic mechanisms underlying matrilineal inheritance in the few familial cases, and mt structural and enzyme deficiencies have been unrevealing to date.