Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON) is the most frequent mitochondrial disease and was the first to be genetically defined by a point mutation in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). A molecular diagnosis is reached in up to 95%, the vast majority of which are accounted for by three mutations within mitochondrial complex I (CI) subunit encoding genes in the mtDNA (mtLHON). Here, we resolve the enigma of LHON in the absence of pathogenic mtDNA mutations. We describe biallelic mutations in a nuclear encoded gene, DNAJC30, in 33 unsolved patients from 29 families and establish an autosomal recessive mode of inheritance for LHON (arLHON), which to date has been a prime example of a maternally inherited disorder. Remarkably, all hallmarks of mtLHON are recapitulated, including incomplete penetrance, male predominance, and significant idebenone responsivity. Moreover, by tracking protein turnover in patient-derived cell lines and a DNAJC30-knock-out cellular model, we measure reduced turnover of specific CI N-module subunits and a resultant impairment of CI function. This demonstrates DNAJC30 is to be a chaperone protein needed for the efficient exchange of CI subunits exposed to reactive oxygen species and integral to a mitochondrial CI repair mechanism, thereby providing the first example of a disease resulting from impaired exchange of assembled respiratory chain subunits.