Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease (PMD) and spastic paraplegia type 2 (SPG2) are X-linked developmental defects of myelin formation affecting the central nervous system (CNS). They differ clinically in the onset and severity of the motor disability but both are allelic to the proteolipid protein gene (PLP), which encodes the principal protein components of CNS myelin, PLP and its spliced isoform, DM20. We investigated 52 PMD and 28 SPG families without large PLP duplications or deletions by genomic PCR amplification and sequencing of the PLP gene. We identified 29 and 4 abnormalities respectively. Patients with PLP mutations presented a large range of disease severity, with a continuum between severe forms of PMD, without motor development, to pure forms of SPG. Clinical severity was found to be correlated with the nature of the mutation, suggesting a distinct strategy for detection of PLP point mutations between severe PMD, mild PMD and SPG. Single amino-acid changes in highly conserved regions of the DM20 protein caused the most severe forms of PMD. Substitutions of less conserved amino acids, truncations, absence of the protein and PLP-specific mutations caused the milder forms of PMD and SPG. Therefore, the interactions and stability of the mutated proteins has a major effect on the severity of PLP-related diseases.