The alpha-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase complex (KGDHC) is an important mitochondrial constituent, and deficiency of KGDHC is associated with a number of neurological disorders. KGDHC is composed of three proteins, each encoded on a different and well-characterized gene. The sequences of the human proteins are known. The organization of the proteins into a large, ordered multienzyme complex (a "metabolon") has been well studied in prokaryotic and eukaryotic species. KGDHC catalyzes a critical step in the Krebs tricarboxylic acid cycle, which is also a step in the metabolism of the potentially excitotoxic neurotransmitter glutamate. A number of metabolites modify the activity of KGDHC, including inactivation by 4-hydroxynonenal and other reactive oxygen species (ROS). In human brain, the activity of KGDHC is lower than that of any other enzyme of energy metabolism, including phosphofructokinase, aconitase, and the electron transport complexes. Deficiencies of KGDHC are likely to impair brain energy metabolism and therefore brain function, and lead to manifestations of brain disease. In general, the clinical manifestations of KGDHC deficiency relate to the severity of the deficiency. Several such disorders have been recognized: infantile lactic acidosis, psychomotor retardation in childhood, intermittent neuropsychiatric disease with ataxia and other motor manifestations, Friedreich's and other spinocerebellar ataxias, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease (AD). A KGDHC gene has been associated with the first two and last two of these disorders. KGDHC is not uniformly distributed in human brain, and the neurons that appear selectively vulnerable in human temporal cortex in AD are enriched in KGDHC. We hypothesize that variations in KGDHC that are not deleterious during reproductive life become deleterious with aging, perhaps by predisposing this mitochondrial metabolon to oxidative damage.