BACKGROUND: Overlapping phenotypes including LHON, MELAS, and Leigh syndrome have recently been associated with numerous mtDNA point mutations in the ND5 gene of complex I, now considered a mutational hot spot. OBJECTIVE: To identify the mtDNA defect in a family with a prevalent ocular phenotype, including LHON-like optic neuropathy, retinopathy, and cataract, but characterised also by strokes, early deaths, and miscarriages on the maternal line. RESULTS: Sequencing of the entire mitochondrial genome from the proband's muscle DNA identified the heteroplasmic 13042G-->A transition, which was previously described only once in a patient with a different mitochondrial disease. This mutation fulfils the major pathogenic criteria, inducing an amino acid change (A236T) at an invariant position in a highly conserved domain of the ND5 gene. Phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy in the proband disclosed an in vivo brain and skeletal muscle energy metabolism deficit. CONCLUSIONS: These findings conclusively establish the pathogenic role of the 13042G-->A mutation and underscore its variable clinical expression.