Recently, the Wilson's disease locus (WND) has been mapped to the long arm of chromosome 13. We have analyzed segregation of several chromosome 13 markers flanking the WND locus and used multipoint linkage analysis to determine the most likely WND genotype of each of 57 unaffected individuals in 5 Wilson's disease families. Approximately 46% of these could be classified as carrier (heterozygote), homozygous normal, or homozygous affected (not yet symptomatic) with a probability of at least 90%, while 77% could be classified with a probability of at least 80%. Our results demonstrate that even though there is a significant decrease on average in serum copper concentration in Wilson's disease heterozygotes compared to normal homozygotes, other sources of variation in serum copper concentration are much greater and preclude use of serum copper to detect heterozygotes for Wilson's disease. Subsequent analyses showed that a familial component, independent of WND genotype, is the major factor accounting for variation in ceruloplasmin levels among unaffected individuals; age is another factor accounting for more variation in copper levels among unaffected individuals than WND genotype.