Depletion of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) appears to be an important cause of mitochondrial dysfunction in neonates and infants. We have identified another child in whom depletion of mtDNA was demonstrated in liver and serial skeletal muscle biopsies. A primary myoblast culture from the patient initially showed normal levels of mtDNA, but there was a progressive loss of mtDNA in later cell passages and clonal myoblast cell cultures, similar to that observed in the skeletal muscle tissue of the patient. Thus, these clonal myoblast cultures provide an in vitro model of the in vivo mtDNA dynamics. The levels of mitochondrial mRNAs for subunits I and II of cytochrome c oxidase declined with declining mtDNA levels, but the fall in mitochondrial transcript levels lagged behind that of the mtDNA levels. Levels of cytochrome c oxidase subunit I and II polypeptides, however, declined ahead of declining mtDNA levels. Immunocytochemistry showed that between individual cells of the clonal myoblast cultures, the expression of the mitochondrially encoded subunit I of cytochrome c oxidase was heterogeneous, suggesting variable levels of mtDNA. Transfer of patient mitochondria with residual mtDNA levels to control cells devoid of mtDNA (rho0 cells) led to restoration of mtDNA levels and, hence, suggests a nuclear involvement in the depletion.