Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) is a dominantly inherited condition predisposing to colorectal cancer. The recent isolation of the responsible gene (adenomatous polyposis coli or APC) has facilitated the search for germ line mutations in affected individuals. Previous authors have used the RNase protection assay and the single-strand conformation polymorphisms procedure to screen for mutations. In this study we used denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE). DGGE analysis of 10 APC exons (4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, and part of 15) in 33 unrelated Dutch FAP patients has led to the identification of eight novel germ line mutations resulting in stop codons or frameshifts. The results reported here indicate that (1) familial adenomatous polyposis is caused by an extremely heterogeneous spectrum of point mutations; (2) all the mutations found in this study are chain terminating; and (3) DGGE represents a rapid and sensitive technique for the detection of mutations in the unusually large APC gene. An extension of the DGGE analysis to the entire coding region in a sufficient number of clinically well-characterized, unrelated patients will facilitate the establishment of genotype-phenotype correlations. On the other hand, the occurrence of an extremely heterogeneous spectrum of mutations spread throughout the entire length of the large APC gene among the FAP patients indicates that this approach may not be useful as a rapid presymptomatic diagnostic procedure in a routine laboratory. Nevertheless, the above DGGE approach has incidentally led to the identification of a common polymorphism in exon 13. Such intragenic polymorphisms offer a practical approach to a more rapid procedure for presymptomatic diagnosis of FAP by linkage analysis in informative families.