Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) is a hematologic disorder characterized by acquired PIG-A gene mutations that lead to defective bioassembly of glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) anchors and the absence of GPI-linked surface proteins. As the etiology of these acquired PIG-A gene mutations is unknown, we hypothesized that patients with PNH have overall genetic instability and acquire somatic mutations throughout their genome. We first analyzed microsatellite sequences and found equivalent size variation using DNA from GPI-negative granulocytes compared with the DNA of paired GPI-positive B cell lines or normal granulocytes. We next quantitated the frequency of mutations at the hypoxanthine-guanine phosphoribosyl transferase (hprt) gene locus, and found 1 PNH patient with a large increase in hprt mutant frequency (256.7 x 10(-6) vs. 27.8 +/- 19.9 x 10(-6) for normal adults) that was confirmed on 4 independent blood samples. We also quantitated "illegitimate" VDJ genetic recombination events between the T cell receptor V gamma and J beta gene loci, and found a second PNH patient with a large increase (43.5 events per microgram of DNA vs. 1.3 +/- 0.8 events per microgram of DNA for normal adults), confirmed on 4 independent DNA samples. Both of these PNH patients are young females with no history of aplastic anemia. Our data show that PNH patients can have increased numbers of acquired somatic mutations in gene loci distinct from PIG-A. These data suggest that genetic instability may be associated with the development of PIG-A mutations that lead to the clinical picture of PNH.