Previous series that described phenotypes in carriers of Alport's syndrome did not distinguish genetically between carriers of X-linked and autosomal recessive disease. In this study, modes of inheritance in unselected families with Alport's syndrome associated with two city and two provincial hospitals were determined using microsatellite markers, and carriers of disease haplotypes were identified within these families. All 47 carriers (100%) from 18 families with X-linked Alport's syndrome had dysmorphic hematuria on phase-contrast microscopy, but few developed renal failure (3 of 40 carriers; 8%), clinical hearing loss (2 of 45 carriers; 4%), retinopathy (1 of 30 carriers; 3%), or lenticonus (0 of 30 carriers; 0%). Eleven of the 14 carriers (79%) from 2 families with autosomal recessive disease had dysmorphic hematuria, but none had renal failure, clinical hearing loss, retinopathy, or lenticonus. Urinary red blood cell counts in carriers of X-linked Alport's syndrome were greater than those in carriers of autosomal recessive disease (P < 0.0001), but the frequency of proteinuria and hypertension and levels of proteinuria were not different. There was more tubulointerstitial damage in carriers of X-linked disease (P = 0.012); however, carriers of autosomal recessive disease had more widespread and more uniform thinning of the glomerular basement membrane (P < 0.0001) and less lamellation (P < 0.04).