Focusing on the synonymous substitution rate, we carried out detailed sequence analyses of hominoid mitochondrial (mt) DNAs of ca. 5-kb length. Owing to the outnumbered transitions and strong biases in the base compositions, synonymous substitutions in mtDNA reach rapidly a rather low saturation level. The extent of the compositional biases differs from gene to gene. Such changes in base compositions, even if small, can bring about considerable variation in observed synonymous differences and may result in the region-dependent estimate of the synonymous substitution rate. We demonstrate that such a region dependency is due to a failure to take proper account of heterogeneous compositional biases from gene to gene but that the actual synonymous substitution rate is rather uniform. The synonymous substitution rate thus estimated is 2.37 +/- 0.11 x 10(-8) per site per year and comparable to the overall rate for the noncoding region. On the other hand, the rate of nonsynonymous substitutions differs considerably from gene to gene, as expected under the neutral theory of molecular evolution. The lowest rate is 0.8 x 10(-9) per site per year for COI and the highest rate is 4.5 x 10(-9) for ATPase 8, the degree of functional constraints (measured by the ratio of the nonsynonymous to the synonymous substitution rate) being 0.03 and 0.19, respectively. Transfer RNA (tRNA) genes also show variability in the base contents and thus in the nucleotide differences. The average rate for 11 tRNAs contained in the 5-kb region is 3.9 x 10(-9) per site per year. The nucleotide substitutions in the genome suggest that the transition rate is about 17 times faster than the transversion rate.