Osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) type I is the mildest form of inherited brittle-bone disease. Dermal fibroblasts from most affected individuals produce about half the usual amount of type I procollagen, as a result of a COL1A1 "null" allele. Using PCR amplification of genomic DNA from affected individuals, followed by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) and SSCP, we identified seven different COL1A1 gene mutations in eight unrelated families with OI type I. Three families have single nucleotide substitutions that alter 5' donor splice sites; two of these unrelated families have the same mutation. One family has a point mutation, in an exon, that creates a premature termination codon, and four have small deletions or insertions, within exons, that create translational frameshifts and new termination codons downstream of the mutation sites. Each mutation leads to both marked reduction in steady-state levels of mRNA from the mutant allele and a quantitative decrease in type I procollagen production. Our data demonstrate that different molecular mechanisms that have the same effect on type I collagen production result in the same clinical phenotype.