X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) is a neurodegenerative disorder with variable phenotypic expression that is characterized by elevated plasma and tissue levels of very long-chain fatty acids. However, the product of the gene defective in ALD (ALDP) is a membrane transporter of the ATP-binding cassette family of proteins and is not related to enzymes known to activate or oxidize fatty acids. We generated an antibody that specifically recognizes the C-terminal 18 amino acids of ALDP and can detect ALDP by indirect immunofluorescence. To better understand the mechanism by which mutations in ALDP lead to disease, we used this antibody to examine the subcellular distribution and relative abundance of ALDP in skin fibroblasts from normal individuals and ALD patients. Punctate immunoreactive material typical of fibroblast peroxisomes was observed in cells from seven normal controls and eight non-ALD patients. Of 35 ALD patients tested, 17 had the childhood-onset cerebral form of the disease, 13 had the milder adult phenotype adrenomyeloneuropathy, 3 had adrenal insufficiency only, and 2 were affected fetuses. More than two-thirds (69%) of all patients studied showed no punctate immunoreactive material. There was no correlation between the immunofluorescence pattern and clinical phenotype. We determined the mutation in the ALD gene in 15 of these patients. Patients with either a deletion or frameshift mutation lacked ALDP immunoreactivity, as expected. Four of 11 patients with missense mutations were also immunonegative, indicating that these mutations affected the stability or localization of ALDP. In the seven immunopositive patients with missense mutations, correlation of the location and nature of the amino acid substitution may provide new insights into the function of this peroxisomal membrane protein. Furthermore, the study of female relatives of immunonegative ALD probands may aid in the assessment of heterozygote status.