Trichothiodystrophy (TTD), an autosomal recessive disorder characterized by sulfur-deficient brittle hair, identifies a group of genetic disorders with an altered synthesis of high-sulfur matrix proteins and a defect in excision repair of ultraviolet damage in fibroblasts of most TTD patients. In contrast to patients with xeroderma pigmentosum (XP), TTD patients do not have an increased frequency of skin cancers. TTD patients may be grouped into four categories: 1) those without photosensitivity and without a defect in excision repair of UV damage; 2) those without photosensitivity and with an excision-repair defect in the same gene as in XP-D (complementation group D); 3) those with photosensitivity and with the XP-D repair defect; 4) those with photosensitivity and with a repair defect distinct from that in XP-D. We present a brother and sister in the third category of TTD. Clinically, the patients have brittle hair, short stature, ichthyosis, photosensitivity, nail and dental dysplasias, cataracts, mental retardation, and pyramidal tract abnormalities. Diagnosis was made by hair mount, which shows the characteristic banding pattern with polarizing microscopy, and by hair amino acid analysis, which demonstrated decreased high-sulfur matrix proteins. Fibroblasts cultured from skin biopsies had a marked DNA excision repair defect similar to the repair defect seen in XP-D. We have documented a unique dysmyelinating disorder on magnetic resonance imaging of the brain that might explain their mental retardation, marked hyperactivity, and neurologic deficits. Following the discovery that the human excision repair cross complementing rodent ultraviolet group 2 (ERCC2) gene is able to correct the ultraviolet sensitivity of XP-D cell strains, the ERCC2 cDNA from previous TTD patients was sequenced and shows frameshifts, deletions and point mutations in the ERCC2 gene. Molecular analysis of our patients is in progress. Molecular analysis of the defects in ERCC2 in clinically distinct patients with XP,XP/Cockayne's syndrome, and TTD may provide insight into the molecular mechanisms of these genetically related but clinically distinct disorders.