Twelve patients with Leigh's syndrome from 10 families harbored a T > G point mutation at nt 8993 of mtDNA. This mutation, initially associated with neurogenic weakness, ataxia, and retinitis pigmentosa, was later found to result in the Leigh phenotype when present in a high percentage. In our patients, the mutation was heteroplasmic, maternally inherited, and appeared to segregate rapidly within the pedigrees. Quantitative analysis revealed a good correlation between percentage of mutant mitochondrial genomes and severity of the clinical phenotype. The mutation was not found in > 200 patients with other mitochondrial encephalomyopathies or in controls. Mitochondrial enzyme activities were normal in all but 1 patient, and there were no ragged-red fibers in the muscle biopsy. Lactic acidosis was present in 92% of patients. Our findings suggest that the mtDNA nt 8993 mutation is a relatively common cause of Leigh's syndrome.