Rett syndrome (RTT) is an X-linked progressive encephalopathy. Mutations in the MECP2 (methyl-CpG-binding protein) gene have been found to cause RTT. In the past few years, the role of MECP2 mutations in patients with mental disorders other than RTT has been studied, finding that mutations in MECP2 also contribute to non-syndromic entities. More recently, it has been demonstrated that RTT shares clinical features with those of Angelman syndrome, another neurodevelopmental disorder. These observations must be confirmed in a large series, to better understand the criteria needed for justifying a molecular test. Consequently, we have searched for MECP2 mutations in 294 patients (43 Angelman and Prader-Willi like included) with mental retardation (MR) of unknown aetiology. We found six polymorphisms (three novel, three previously reported) in 10 patients, one novel unclassified silent change (p.V222V) in a man, and one causative mutation in a girl with MR. Once this case was clinically reviewed, the girl presented symptoms of atypical RTT. The mutation (p.Y141C) lies within the methyl-binding domain, and has only been reported once in another atypical RTT. Our results show that the MECP2 mutations account for a low frequency (1/416 chromosomes = 0.24%) among mentally retarded individuals, which imply that it is necessary to perform an exhaustive clinical examination of patients before determining whether analysis of MECP2 is required or not.