Defects in mitochondrial energy production have been implicated in several neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. To study the contribution of mitochondrial defects to Alzheimer disease and schizophrenia, cytochrome-c oxidase (COX) activity and levels of the mtDNA4977 deletion in postmortem brain tissue specimens of patients were compared with those of asymptomatic age-matched controls. No difference in COX activity was observed between Alzheimer patients and controls in any of five brain regions investigated. In contrast, schizophrenic patients had a 63% reduction of the COX activity in the nucleus caudatus (P < 0.0001) and a 43% reduction in the cortex gyrus frontalis (P < 0.05) as compared to controls. The average levels of the mtDNA4977 deletion did not differ significantly between Alzheimer patients and controls, and the deletion followed similar modes of accumulation with age in the two groups. In contrast, no age-related accumulation of mtDNA deletions was found in schizophrenic patients. The reduction in COX activity in schizophrenic patients did not correlate with changes in the total amount of mtDNA or levels of the mtDNA4977 deletion. The lack of age-related accumulation of the mtDNA4977 deletion and reduction in COX activity suggest that a mitochondrial dysfunction may be involved in the pathogenesis of schizophrenia.