We detected a novel pathogenic mutation, a G-->A transition at position 5521 of mitochondrial tRNA(Trp) gene, in association with familial late-onset mitochondrial myopathy. The mutation was detected in muscle but not in leukocytes from the family's proband. Morphological and biochemical studies documented a severe defect of muscle cytochrome c oxidase (COX) activity. RFLP analysis of single muscle fibers demonstrated segregation of higher percentages of mutated genomes in COX-negative ragged red fibres compared with normal fibers. A predominant impairment in synthesis of subunits I and III of complex IV due to their highest relative content of tryptophane might explain the greater susceptibility of complex IV to the pathogenic effect of this mutation. A progressive accumulation of mutated genomes in muscle can account for the late onset of symptoms observed in affected members.