There is good evidence that patients with Parkinson's disease have respiratory chain dysfunction in their substantia nigra. Since mitochondrial cytopathies due to enzyme defects in the respiratory chain are predominantly manifested in tissues with a high oxidative metabolism we analyzed oxidative energy metabolism in skeletal muscle from 6 patients with Parkinson's disease. Control muscles were from subjects of the same age group. Histological and histochemical analyses showed no morphological abnormalities found in mitochondrial myopathies. Biochemical analyses of the various complexes of the respiratory chain were normal. Since 13 subunits of complexes I, III, IV and V of the respiratory chain are encoded by the mitochondrial genome we performed Southern blot and PCR analyses in skeletal muscle from patients and controls and found no disease-specific increase in deletions or insertions of the mitochondrial genome. Therefore, we do not think that skeletal muscle reflects the mitochondrial disturbance in Parkinson's disease found in the substantia nigra.