Hearing loss involves both genetic and environmental factors. A mutation (A1555G) in the mtDNA has been associated with aminoglycoside-induced and nonsyndromic sensorineural deafness. The pathological significance of this mutation in Caucasoid families has not been established, and its relationship with antibiotic treatment is not well understood. We studied 70 Spanish families with sensorineural deafness (36 congenital and 34 late onset) for the mtDNA A1555G mutation. The A1555G mutation was found in 19 families with maternally transmitted deafness but not in the other 51 families or in 200 control subjects. In 12 families all the patients with the A1555G mutation who received aminoglycosides became deaf, representing 30.3% of the deaf patients in these families. None of the deaf patients from seven other families received aminoglycosides. Overall, only 17.7% of the patients with deafness and the A1555G mutation had been treated with aminoglycosides. The age at onset of deafness was lower (median age 5 years, range 1-52 years) in those treated with aminoglycosides than in those who did not receive antibiotics (median age 20 years, range 1-65 years) (P < .001). The mtDNA of these families belongs to haplotypes common in Europeans. These data indicate that the A1555G mutation accounts for a large proportion of the Spanish families with late-onset sensorineural deafness, that the A1555G mutation has an age-dependent penetrance for deafness (enhanced by treatment with aminoglycosides), and that mtDNA backgrounds probably do not play a major role in disease expression.