In the present study, a comprehensive, rapid and sensitive method for screening sequence variation of the human mitochondrial tRNA genes has been developed. For this purpose, the denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) technique has been appropriately modified for simultaneous mutation analysis of a large number of samples and adapted so as to circumvent the problems caused by the anomalous electrophoretic behavior of DNA fragments encoding tRNA genes. Eighteen segments of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), each containing a single uniform melting domain, were selected to cover all tRNA-encoding regions using the computer program MELT94. All 18 segments were simultaneously analyzed by electrophoresis through a single broad range denaturing gradient gel under rigorously defined conditions, which prevent band broadening and other migration abnormalities from interfering with detection of sequence variants. All base substitutions tested, which include six natural mutations and 14 artificially introduced ones, have been detected successfully in the present study. Several types of evidence strongly suggest that the anomalous behavior in DGGE of tRNA gene-containing mtDNA fragments reflects their tendency to form temporary or stable alternative secondary structures under semi-denaturing conditions. The high sensitivity of the method, which can detect as low as 10% of mutant mtDNA visually, makes it valuable for the analysis of heteroplasmic mutations.