To examine the genetic basis of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), a degenerative disease of the retinal pigment epithelium and neurosensory retina, we conducted a genomewide scan in 34 extended families (297 individuals, 349 sib pairs) ascertained through index cases with neovascular disease or geographic atrophy. Family and medical history was obtained from index cases and family members. Fundus photographs were taken of all participating family members, and these were graded for severity by use of a quantitative scale. Model-free linkage analysis was performed, and tests of heterogeneity and epistasis were conducted. We have evidence of a major locus on chromosome 15q (GATA50C03 multipoint P=1.98x10-7; empirical P< or =1.0x10-5; single-point P=3.6x10-7). This locus was present as a weak linkage signal in our previous genome scan for ARMD, in the Beaver Dam Eye Study sample (D15S659, multipoint P=.047), but is otherwise novel. In this genome scan, we observed a total of 13 regions on 11 chromosomes (1q31, 2p21, 4p16, 5q34, 9p24, 9q31, 10q26, 12q13, 12q23, 15q21, 16p12, 18p11, and 20q13), with a nominal multipoint significance level of P< or =.01 or LOD > or =1.18. Family-by-family analysis of the data, performed using model-free linkage methods, suggests that there is evidence of heterogeneity in these families. For example, a single family (family 460) individually shows linkage evidence at 8 loci, at the level of P<.0001. We conducted tests for heterogeneity, which suggest that ARMD susceptibility loci on chromosomes 9p24, 10q26, and 15q21 are not present in all families. We tested for mutations in linked families and examined SNPs in two candidate genes, hemicentin-1 and EFEMP1, in subsamples (145 and 189 sib pairs, respectively) of the data. Mutations were not observed in any of the 11 exons of EFEMP1 nor in exon 104 of hemicentin-1. The SNP analysis for hemicentin-1 on 1q31 suggests that variants within or in very close proximity to this gene cause ARMD pathogenesis. In summary, we have evidence for a major ARMD locus on 15q21, which, coupled with numerous other loci segregating in these families, suggests complex oligogenic patterns of inheritance for ARMD.