OBJECTIVE To define potential pathogenic mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) point mutations in a patient with myoclonus epilepsy with ragged-red fibers (MERRF) syndrome. BACKGROUND MERRF syndrome is typically associated with point mutations in the mtDNA tRNALys gene. METHODS We performed morphologic, biochemical, and genetic analysis of muscle samples from the patient and four relatives. Molecular genetic studies included sequencing, PCR, and restriction enzyme analysis on whole muscle, blood, and single muscle fibers. RESULTS Muscle biopsy showed cytochrome c oxidase (COX), negative ragged-red fibers (RRF), and a defect of complex I of the mitochondrial respiratory chain. We found an A8296G transition and a G8363A mutation in the mtDNA tRNALYs gene. The A8296G was almost homoplasmic in muscle and blood from the propositus and his oligosymptomatic maternal relatives. The G8363A mutation was heteroplasmic and more abundant in muscle than in blood, and its proportion correlated with clinical severity. Single muscle fiber analysis showed significantly higher levels of G8363A genomes in COX-negative than in normal fibers, and almost homoplasmic levels of mutant A8296G mtDNA in both COX-negative and normal fibers. The two mutations affect highly conserved nucleotides and were not found in controls. CONCLUSIONS The G8363A mutation is pathogenic; the co-occurrence of the A8296G mutation is of unclear significance and is likely to be a rare polymorphism.