Parkinson's disease (PD), defined as a neurodegenerative disorder, is characterized by the loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra in the midbrain. Loss-of-function mutations in the parkin gene are a major cause of autosomal recessive, early-onset PD. Parkin has been implicated in the maintenance of healthy mitochondria, although previous studies show conflicting findings regarding mitochondrial abnormalities in fibroblasts from patients harboring parkin-null mutations. The aim of the present study was to determine whether South African PD patients with parkin mutations exhibit evidence for mitochondrial dysfunction. Fibroblasts were cultured from skin biopsies obtained from three patients with homozygous parkin-null mutations, two heterozygous mutation carriers and two wild-type controls. Muscle biopsies were obtained from two of the patients. The muscle fibers showed subtle abnormalities such as slightly swollen mitochondria in focal areas of the fibers and some folding of the sarcolemma. Although no differences in the degree of mitochondrial network branching were found in the fibroblasts, ultrastructural abnormalities were observed including the presence of electron-dense vacuoles. Moreover, decreased ATP levels which are consistent with mitochondrial dysfunction were observed in the patients' fibroblasts compared to controls. Remarkably, these defects did not manifest in one patient, which may be due to possible compensatory mechanisms. These results suggest that parkin-null patients exhibit features of mitochondrial dysfunction. Involvement of mitochondria as a key role player in PD pathogenesis will have important implications for the design of new and more effective therapies.