Thirty-four children with lactic acidosis and Leigh encephalopathy due to cytochrome C oxidase (COX) deficiency distributed in 28 families have recently been identified in northeastern Quebec, particularly in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean (SLSJ) region. The segregation analysis was consistent with an autosomal recessive mode of inheritance. The incidence was estimated at 1/2,063 live births between 1979 and 1990, and the carrier rate was estimated at 1/23 inhabitants in SLSJ. In SLSJ, the places of origin of the COX-deficient children and their parents did not show a clustered nonuniform distribution. The genealogical reconstruction of 54 obligate carriers identified 26 ancestors common to all of them. Twenty-two were 17th-century Europeans, suggesting that the COX-deficient gene was introduced in the French-Canadian population by early settlers. These results support the hypothesis of a founder effect for COX deficiency in northeastern Quebec. Clinical findings are reported for 15 of these COX-deficient patients, age 6 mo to 11 years. Moderate developmental delay, hypotonia, ataxia, strabismus, and mild facial dysmorphism were frequent. Eleven children died in episodes of fulminant metabolic acidosis. The patients had elevated blood and cerebrospinal fluid lactate levels, decreased blood bicarbonate levels, and normal blood pH. Leigh disease and microvesicular steatosis of the liver were present in all affected patients for whom postmortem examination was performed. This biochemically uniform group of patients showed a wide range of clinical severity.