We screened 163 women from breast-ovarian cancer-prone families, as well as 178 individuals affected with breast and/or ovarian cancer but unselected for family history, for germ-line mutations in exon 2 of BRCA1, by SSCP analysis and direct sequencing. A total of 25 mutations were detected. Thirteen of 64 Jewish Ashkenazi women and 2 non-Jewish individuals were found to possess the 185delAG mutation. Haplotype data for all 15 individuals, with markers intragenic to BRCA1, suggest that the Jewish Ashkenazi individuals share a common ancestry that is distinct from the lineage shared by the other two women. These data provide the first evidence of two distinct lines of transmission for the 185delAG mutation, only one of which has its origins in the Jewish Ashkenazi population. Our screening also uncovered 10 affected individuals with an 11-bp deletion at nucleotide 188 of BRCA1 (188del11), 4 of whom are Ashkenazi Jews. This is only the third reported mutation detected within the Jewish Ashkenazi population and may represent the second most common alteration in BRCA1 found in Ashkenazi Jews in the United States. The observed overrepresentation of specific mutations within a subgroup of the general population may eventually contribute to the development of inexpensive and routine tests for BRCA1 mutations, as well as to the elucidation of other contributory factors (e.g., diet, environment, and chemical exposures) that may play a key role in cancer initiation and development. The implications of the mutational data, as well as the role that founder effect, demographic history, and penetrance play in the resulting observed phenomena, are discussed.