An epidemic neuropathy in Cuba has caused bilateral optic neuropathies in more than 26,000 people during the past three years. Various pathogenetic factors have been proposed, including toxins, nutritional deficiencies, and an underlying genetic predisposition involving mitochondrial DNA. As part of a case-control collaborative investigation, 135 Cuban blood samples were analyzed for the most common mitochondrial DNA mutations associated with Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy. None of the participants tested were found to have the mitochondrial DNA mutations at nucleotide positions 11778, 3460, 14484, 7444, or 9804. Of 57 definite case subjects and 69 normal control subjects, three case and three control subjects had the mutation at nucleotide position 9438, three different case and three different control subjects had the mutation at position 13708, and one case and one control subject had the mutation at position 15257 in association with the mutation at position 13708. The most common mitochondrial DNA mutations associated with Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy do not appear to be contributing factors in the epidemic neuropathy in Cuba. We also identified a large Cuban family with maternally related members who experienced visual loss consistent with the diagnosis of Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy. Maternal family members harbored the highly pathogenetic mutation at nucleotide position 11778.