PURPOSE:This study was designed to assess the effect of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutation T8993C on cone structure in a family expressing neurogenic muscle weakness, ataxia, and retinitis pigmentosa (NARP) syndrome. METHODS:Five family members were studied, using clinical examination, nerve conduction studies, perimetry, optical coherence tomography (OCT) measures of central retinal thickness, and electroretinography. High-resolution images of cone structure using adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscopy (AOSLO) were obtained in four subjects with stable fixation. Cone spacing was compared to 18 age-similar normal subjects and converted to z-scores at each location where unambiguous cones were identified. Tissue levels of T8993C mutant heteroplasmy in blood and hair follicles were quantified using real-time allele-refractory mutations system (ARMS) quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). RESULTS:Subjects expressing the T8993C mutation showed varying levels of disease severity. The subject with the lowest mutant load (42%-54%) showed no neurologic or retinal abnormalities. The remaining four subjects with over 77% mutant load all expressed severe neurologic and/or retinal abnormalities. AOSLO images revealed three patterns of cone spacing: pattern 1, normal; pattern 2, increased cone spacing within a contiguous cone mosaic; and pattern 3, patchy cone loss with increased cone spacing. Visual function was most severely affected in pattern 3. CONCLUSIONS:High levels of T8993C mutant load were associated with severe neurologic or visual dysfunction, while lower levels caused no detectable abnormalities. Visual function was better in patients with a contiguous and regular cone mosaic. Patients expressing high levels of the mtDNA T8993C mutation show abnormal cone structure, suggesting normal mitochondrial DNA is necessary for normal waveguiding by cones.