Several dominant mutations of the mouse agouti coat colour gene have pleiotropic effects that include obesity and a yellow coat. The Ay allele is caused by a large deletion that affects the expression of several contiguous genes. We show that three other obesity-associated agouti mutations, Aiy, Asy and Avy, are due to different molecular alterations that result in ubiquitous expression of a chimaeric RNA that encodes a normal agouti protein. The Aiy and Avy alleles are caused by insertion of an intracisternal A particle element 1 kb or 100 kb, respectively, upstream of agouti coding sequences. These results provide a model for other genes that show allele-specific imprinting, and demonstrate that molecular mechanisms typically responsible for activation of proto-oncogenes can also lead to other disease phenotypes.