Seven mtDNA mutations (five base substitutions and two deletions) were studied in skeletal muscle samples of 18 human subjects aged 1 hr to 90 years. Quantitative PCR procedures were applied to determine the incidence (frequency of occurrence) and abundance (percentage of mutant mtDNA out of total mtDNA). The base substitutions, in general, showed a very early onset, three such mutations being detectable in the muscles of infants aged 1 hr and 5 weeks. Of two disease-associated point mutations studied, 3243 A-->G showed significant accumulation with age (P < 0.05), while 8993 T-->G showed no significant age accumulation (P > 0.1). Moreover, three arbitrarily chosen mutations (not disease-associated) showed no age-associated accumulation: two (7029 C-->T and 7920 A-->G) showed little change over the years (P > 0.1), while the other (13167 A-->G) showed a significant decrease (P < 0.05). both the 4,977-bp and 7,436-bp deletions showed a significant age-associated occurrence (P < 0.01 and P < 0.05, respectively). The age of onset of detectable deletions is about 20-40 years; thereafter, the incidence and abundance of deletions tend to increase as a function of advancing age. The seven specific mutations were found to occur independent of each other, indicating the random nature of mtDNA mutations in skeletal muscle. Moreover, the age-associated accumulation of multiple deletions was observed in the same set of muscle tissues, each extract displaying a unique set of multiple PCR products. Thus, mutations in mtDNA occur differentially in human skeletal muscle during aging.