Establishing the basic defect in Canavan disease has led to reliable biochemical methods for the diagnosis of this disease. The isolation of the gene and identification of mutations causing Canavan disease have led to the possibility of using DNA methods for the diagnosis of Canavan disease and for carrier detection. A surprising finding is the high carrier frequency of this gene defect among Ashkenazi Jewish people. Analysis for two mutations leads to the identification of 97% of Jewish patients with Canavan disease, and screening of Ashkenazi Jews is possible. N-Acetylaspartic acid has been considered to be an inert compound. The pathophysiology of Canavan disease links lack of NAA hydrolysis to a severe, debilitating white matter disease. Currently, NAA is being studied in many other brain disorders, such as Alzheimer disease, Huntington disease, and stroke. However, the only disease with a specific defect in the metabolism of NAA is Canavan disease. An animal model for Canavan disease is needed to study some of the questions regarding the role of NAA in brain tissue, and for the study of therapeutic modalities, including gene therapy.