Familial paragangliomas (PGL) are slow-growing, highly vascular, generally benign neoplasms, usually of the head and neck, that arise from neural crest cells. This rare autosomal dominant disorder is highly penetrant and influenced by genomic imprinting through paternal transmission. Timely detection of these tumors may afford the affected individual the opportunity to avoid the potential serious morbidity associated with surgical removal and the mortality that may accompany local and distant metastases. Linkage to two distinct chromosomal loci, 11q13.1 and 11q23, has been previously reported. Recently, germline mutations in SDHD, a mitochondrial complex II gene on chromosome 11q23, have been demonstrated. We evaluated members of seven families with PGL, five previously studied and shown to have linkage to chromosome 11q23. The entire coding region of the SDHD gene was sequenced and yielded four novel mutations and one mutation shared in three of our unrelated families. Novel mutations found included a truncating mutation in exon 2, as well as a missense mutation, a deletion, and an insertion in exon 4. Three of our families had a common mutation in exon 3 (P81L) that has been reported and thought to be a founder mutation. A restriction enzyme assay was developed for initial screening of this mutation. Molecular analysis is now available and recommended for presymptomatic diagnosis in those at-risk individuals and for confirmatory diagnosis in those having PGL.