Androgen-dependent gene transcription is mediated by the androgen receptor (AR) through interaction of its central zinc finger region with specific DNA sequences on target genes. Failure of this receptor-mediated gene transcription results in end organ resistance to androgens-the androgen insensitivity syndromes. In a pair of siblings with complete androgen insensitivity who had supranormal levels of androgen binding in genital skin fibroblasts, polymerase chain reaction and Southern blot analysis of the androgen receptor gene confirmed by polymerase chain reaction and sequence analysis of AR cDNA, revealed an in-frame deletion of exon C encoding the second zinc finger of the receptor. The mutant receptor in cultured genital skin fibroblasts had normal androgen binding affinity and was localized in the nucleus but had markedly reduced DNA-binding affinity. When recreated in vitro and tested in a cotransfection assay system the mutant receptor failed to activate transcription of an androgen-responsive reporter gene. This naturally occurring mutation highlights the functional dependence of the AR upon its second zinc finger in vivo and explains the complete insensitivity to androgen manifest by the affected individuals despite increased androgen binding. The elevated AR levels in the subjects' genital skin fibroblasts further suggests a possible role for the second zinc finger in autoregulation of receptor levels in vivo.