Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON) is a maternally inherited disorder of the optic nerves. It has been proposed that the specific mutations in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) that are associated with LHON require and X-chromosomally encoded permissive factor in order to become expressed. This would explain both the preponderance of male patients and the fact that most carriers of specific mtDNA mutations remain unaffected. Although linkage studies have been negative so far, the existence of such a factor has not been ruled out. We investigated the genealogical data of 24 large LHON pedigrees and concluded that the presumed X-linked factor would be recessively inherited and that at least 57% of the affected females would be heterozygous. Therefore, these females must be the victim of nonrandom X-chromosomal inactivation (skewed lyonization). However, analysis of X-chromosomal methylation patterns in 16 LHON-affected females revealed substantial skewing in only 15%-20% of cases, which is not significantly different from the patterns in 49 controls. Moreover, we found the frequency of LHON in daughters of affected heterozygous females to be twice to three times as high as in daughters of unaffected heterozygous females, which cannot be explained by an X-chromosomally inherited factor. We concluded that the results of our investigations do not support the hypothesis that LHON is a digenic disease with an X-linked factor being the main cause of loss of vision in the presence of relevant mtDNA mutations.