Beta-hexosaminidase A (beta-N-acetyl-D-hexosaminidase, EC 22.214.171.124.2) is a lysosomal hydrolase composed of an alpha- and a beta-subunit. It is responsible for the degradation of GM2 ganglioside. Mutations in the HEXB gene encoded beta-subunit cause a form of GM2 gangliosidosis known as Sandhoff disease. Although this is a rare disease in the general population, several geographically isolated groups have a high carrier frequency. Most notably, a 1 in 16-29 carrier frequency has been reported for an Argentinean population living in an area contained within a 375-km radius from Córdoba. Analysis of the genomic DNA of two patients from this region revealed that one was homozygous for a G to A substitution at the 5' donor splice site of intron 2. This mutation completely abolishes normal mRNA splicing. The other patient was a compared of the intron 2 G-->A substitution and a second allele due to a 4-bp deletion in exon 7. The beta-subunit mRNA of this allele is unstable, presumably as a result of an early stop codon introduced by the deletion. Two novel PCR-based assays were developed to detect these mutations. We suggest that one of these assays could be modified and used as a rapid screening procedure for 5' donor splice site defects in other genes. These results provide a further example of the genetic heterogeneity that can exist even in a small geographically isolated population.