MELAS syndrome is typically characterized by normal early development and childhood-onset recurrent neurologic deficits (stroke-like episodes), seizures, short stature, lactic acidosis, and ragged red fibers on muscle biopsy specimens. It is usually, but not invariably, associated with the A3243G point mutation in the mitochondrial DNA tRNA(Leu(UUR)) gene. We report 3 unrelated children with the A3243G mutation who presented with severe psychomotor delay in early infancy. One patient's clinical picture was more consistent with Leigh syndrome, with apneic episodes, ataxia, and bilateral striatal lesions on brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The second patient had generalized seizures refractory to treatment and bilateral occipital lesions on brain MRI. The third child had atypical retinal pigmentary changes, seizures, areflexia, and cerebral atrophy on brain MRI. All patients had several atypical features in addition to early onset: absence of an acute or focal neurologic deficit, variable serum and cerebrospinal fluid lactate levels, lack of ragged red fibers in muscle biopsy specimens. The proportion of mutant mtDNA in available tissues was relatively low (range, 5% to 51% in muscle; 4% to 39% in blood). These observations further extend the phenotypic expression of the A3243G 'MELAS' mutation. Our findings confirm previous observations that there is poor correlation between abundance of mutant mtDNA in peripheral tissues and neurologic phenotype. This suggests that other factors contribute to the phenotypic expression of this mutation.