Ornithine transcarbamylase (OTC) deficiency, a partially dominant X-linked disorder, is the most common inherited defect of the urea cycle. Previous reports suggested a variable phenotypic spectrum, and several studies documented different "private" mutations in the OTC genes of patients. Our laboratory identified disease-causing mutations in 157 families with OTC deficiency, 100 of which came to medical attention through a hemizygous propositus and in 57 the index case was a heterozygous female. We correlated the genotype with age of onset, liver OTC activity, incorporation of nitrogen into urea, and peak plasma ammonia levels. The "neonatal onset" group has a homogeneous clinical and biochemical phenotype, whereas the "late onset" group shows an extremely wide phenotype; 60% of the mutations are associated exclusively with acute neonatal hyperammonemic coma. The remaining mutations caused a nonuniform phenotype ranging from severe disease to no symptoms; 31% of the mutations in the OTC gene occur in CpG dinucleotides (methylation-mediated deamination), and none of them accounted for more than 4% of the total. Eighty-six percent of the mutations represented single-base substitutions and 68% of the substitutions were transitions. G-to-A and C-to-T transitions were the most frequent substitutions (34 and 21%, respectively) whereas C-to-A, A-to-C, C-to-G, and T-to-A transversions were the least common (1.5-3%). Twenty percent of propositi and 77% of propositae carried new mutations. Forty percent of female germinal mutations were in CpG dinucleotides whereas this number appears much smaller in male germinal mutations. These data allow classification of patients with OTC deficiency into at least two groups who have discordant disease course and prognoses. In addition, they improve our understanding on the origin of mutations in the OTC gene and allow better counseling of affected families.