PAX6, a paired box transcriptional factor, is considered as the master control gene for morphogenesis of the eye. Human PAX6 mutations have been associated with a range of eye abnormalities, including aniridia, various anterior segment defects and foveal hypoplasia. We carried out a mutational analysis of the PAX6 gene in 54 unrelated patients with aniridia or related syndromes. A deleterious variation was evidenced in 17 sporadic cases (50%) and in 13 (72%) familial cases. Twenty-four different mutations, 17 of which are novel, were found. The spectrum of PAX6 mutations was highly homogeneous: 23 mutations (96%) leading to premature stop codons (eight nonsense and four splice site mutations, 11 insertions and deletions) and only one (4%) missense mutation. Twenty-two mutations were associated with aniridia phenotypes whereas two were associated with atypical phenotypes. These latter encompassed a missense mutation (R19P) in an individual with a microphthalmia-sclerocornea and a splice site mutation (IVS4+5G > C) in a family presenting with a congenital nystagmus. Both represented the most probably hypomorphic alleles. Aniridia cases were associated with nonsense or frameshifting mutations. A careful examination of the phenotypes did not make it possible to recognise significant differences whenever the predicted protein was deprived of one or another of its functional domains. This strongly suggested that most of the truncating mutations generated null alleles by nonsense mediated mRNA decay. Our observations support the concept of dosage effects of the PAX6 mutations as well as presenting evidence for variable expressivity.