The authors searched for mutations in CACNA1A in patients with episodic ataxia and describe the clinical spectrum in genetically defined patients. Eighteen families and nine sporadic cases of episodic ataxia were evaluated for mutations in CACNA1A. The families were first genotyped to check for linkage to the chromosome 19p locus of CACNA1A. In families consistent with linkage and in the sporadic cases, the authors screened for polymorphisms in CACNA1A using single-strand conformational polymorphism and denaturing high performance liquid chromatography followed by direct sequencing to identify specific nucleotide changes. Of the 18 families, 11 were linked to 19p and mutations were found in 9. Mutations were detected in four of the nine sporadic cases. Overall, five nonsense mutations, four missense mutations, two deletions, one insertion, and one donor splice mutation were identified. All but two of the 64 genetically defined patients reported episodes of ataxia (two members of one family only had progressive ataxia). All but one had onset before age 20 and all but four had interictal nystagmus. Migraine headaches occurred in more than half, and about two thirds reported a good response to treatment with acetazolamide. Vertigo and weakness accompanied the ataxia in more than half of the genetically defined patients. One family had multiple members with epilepsy. A wide range of mutations in CACNA1A were associated with episodic ataxia. Four of 13 were missense mutations; the remainder predicted truncated proteins. The mutations were scattered throughout the gene, and only 2 of the 13 mutations identified in our laboratory have been reported by other laboratories, so it will not be possible to screen a few "hot spots" in CACNA1A. Overall, the type of mutation, missense versus nonsense, or the location of altered or truncated amino acid residues did not predict the clinical phenotype.