Transcriptional analysis of five different cloned beta-thalassaemia genes introduced into cultured mammalian cells revealed specific defects in transcription and RNA splicing. A single base change 87 base pairs to the 5' side of the mRNA cap site significantly lowers the level of transcription and therefore appears to represent a promoter mutation. Three genes contain different single base changes in the first intervening sequence (IVS) 5' splice site. One mutation, at IVS1 position 1, inactivates the splice site completely; the other two, at IVS1 positions 5 and 6, reduce its activity. Each mutation activates the same three cryptic splice sites. The fifth gene contains a single base change within IVS2 at position 745, which results in the formation of abnormal beta-globin RNA that contains an extra exon.