A variety of degenerative diseases involving deficiencies in mitochondrial bioenergetics have been associated with mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations. Maternally inherited mtDNA nucleotide substitutions range from neutral polymorphisms to lethal mutations. Neutral polymorphisms are ancient, having accumulated along mtDNA lineages, and thus correlate with ethnic and geographic origin. Mildly deleterious base substitutions have also occurred along mtDNA lineages and have been associated with familial deafness and some cases of Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's Disease. Moderately deleterious nucleotide substitutions are more recent and cause maternally-inherited diseases such as Leber's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) and Myoclonic Epilepsy and Ragged-Red Fiber Disease (MERRF). Severe nucleotide substitutions are generally new mutations that cause pediatric diseases such as Leigh's Syndrome and dystonia. MtDNA rearrangements also cause a variety of phenotypes. The milder rearrangements generally involve duplications and can cause maternally-inherited adult-onset diabetes and deafness. More severe rearrangements frequently involving detections have been associated with adult-onset Chronic Progressive External Ophthalmoplegia (CPEO) and Kearns-Sayre Syndrome (KSS) or the lethal childhood disorder, Pearson's Marrow/Pancreas Syndrome. Defects in nuclear-cytoplasmic interaction have also been observed, and include an autosomal dominant mutation causing multiple muscle mtDNA deletions and a genetically complex disease resulting in the tissue depletion of mtDNAs. MtDNA nucleotide substitution and rearrangement mutations also accumulate with age in quiescent tissues. These somatic mutations appear to degrade cellular bioenergetic capacity, exacerbate inherited mitochondrial defects and contribute to tissue senescence. Thus, bioenergetic defects resulting from mtDNA mutations may be a common cause of human degenerative disease.