Two susceptibility loci for hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) have been identified, and each contains a mismatch repair gene: MSH2 on chromosome 2p and MLH1 on chromosome 3p. We studied the involvement of these loci in 13 large HNPCC kindreds originating from three different continents. Six families showed close linkage to the 2p locus, and a heritable mutation of the MSH2 gene was subsequently found in four. The 2p-linked kindreds included a family characterized by the lack of extracolonic manifestations (Lynch I syndrome), as well as two families with cutaneous manifestations typical of the Muir-Torre syndrome. Four families showed evidence for linkage to the 3p locus, and a heritable mutation of the MLH1 gene was later detected in three. One 3p-linked kindred was of Amerindian origin. Of the remaining three families studied for linkage, one showed lod scores compatible with exclusion of both MSH2 and MLH1, while lod scores obtained in the other two families suggested exclusion of one HNPCC locus (MSH2 or MLH1) but were uninformative for markers flanking the other locus. Our results suggest that mismatch repair genes on 2p and 3p account for a major share of HNPCC in kindreds that can be evaluated by linkage analysis.