Sjögren-Larsson syndrome (SLS) is an autosomal recessive disorder characterized by ichthyosis, mental retardation, spasticity, and deficient activity of fatty aldehyde dehydrogenase (FALDH). To define the molecular defects causing SLS, we performed mutation analysis of the FALDH gene in probands from 63 kindreds with SLS. Among these patients, 49 different mutations-including 10 deletions, 2 insertions, 22 amino acid substitutions, 3 nonsense mutations, 9 splice-site defects, and 3 complex mutations-were found. All of the patients with SLS were found to carry mutations. Nineteen of the missense mutations resulted in a severe reduction of FALDH enzyme catalytic activity when expressed in mammalian cells, but one mutation (798G-->C [K266N]) seemed to have a greater effect on mRNA stability. The splice-site mutations led to exon skipping or utilization of cryptic acceptor-splice sites. Thirty-seven mutations were private, and 12 mutations were seen in two or more probands of European or Middle Eastern descent. Four single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were found in the FALDH gene. At least four of the common mutations (551C-->T, 682C-->T, 733G-->A, and 798+1delG) were associated with multiple SNP haplotypes, suggesting that these mutations originated independently on more than one occasion or were ancient SLS genes that had undergone intragenic recombination. Our results demonstrate that SLS is caused by a strikingly heterogeneous group of mutations in the FALDH gene and provide a framework for understanding the genetic basis of SLS and the development of DNA-based diagnostic tests.