TIGR/MYOC mutations account for 2-4% of the primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) patients. More than 90% of the known mutations are located within its carboxy-terminus olfactomedin-homology (Olf) domain (amino acids (aa) 245-504). In vitro and in vivo studies showed that several Olf domain mutations prevented myocilin secretion. To investigate if intracellular sequestration was a characteristic feature shared by a majority of the mutations, we analyzed the secretion status of 36 myocilin variants. These encompassed 26 glaucoma-causing mutations and 10 non-disease associated or undefined polymorphisms. As several variants were found to be secreted, we tested for their adhesion to the extracellular matrix (ECM) and/or cell surface. Myocilin variants were generated by site-directed mutagenesis of a vector encoding the human MYOC cDNA. COS-7 or immortalized human trabecular meshwork cells were transfected with wild-type or mutated MYOC constructs. Myocilin levels were estimated by immunoprecipitation and/or immunoblotting. All variants showed identical behaviors in both cell lines; the truncated R46X polypeptide being the only variant which could not be detected in our assays. Of the 35 variants monitored, 20 remained sequestered intracellularly. All of them encoded disease-causing polypeptides carrying Olf domain mutations. Of the 15 variants secreted into the culture medium, six (6) were POAG mutants (of which three (3) located within the Olf domain) while the remaining nine (9) were non-disease causing or undefined polymorphisms. Three (3) of the six (6) secreted mutations caused familial POAG; these were the R126W, T377M and A427T mutants. Both, the T377M and A427T mutants located within the Olf domain. When cells were cultured at 30 degrees C, a process known to facilitate protein folding, 11 of the 20 sequestered mutants were released in the extracellular medium. Out of the 15 secreted variants tested for their adhesion to the ECM and/or cell surface, only the R82C and L95P polypeptides displayed loss of their adhesive properties. Deletion experiments revealed that the coiled-coil (aa 78-105) and leucine zipper (aa 114-183) motifs were essential for adhesion. These experiments demonstrate that intracellular sequestration might be the primary mechanism contributing to myocilin-related POAG as it was associated with more than 80% of the disease-causing mutants tested in our study. A second mechanism may involve abnormal interaction(s) between myocilin and ECM and/or cell surface proteins. Our data further revealed the importance of the olfactomedin-homology domain for myocilin secretion and the significant role of the N-terminal region for its extracellular interactions.