Waardenburg syndrome type 2 (WS2) is a dominantly inherited disorder characterized by a pigmentation anomaly and hearing impairment due to lack of melanocyte. Previous work has linked a subset of families with WS2 (WS2A) to the MITF gene that encodes a transcription factor with a basic-helix-loop-helix-leucine zipper (bHLH-Zip) motif and that is involved in melanocyte differentiation. Several splice-site and missense mutations have been reported in individuals affected with WS2A. In this report, we have identified two novel point mutations in the MITF gene in affected individuals from two different families with WS2A. The two mutations (C760--> T and C895--> T) create stop codons in exons 7 and 8, respectively. Corresponding mutant alleles predict the truncated proteins lacking HLH-Zip or Zip structure. To understand how these mutations cause WS2 in heterozygotes, we generated mutant MITF cDNAs and used them for DNA-binding and luciferase reporter assays. The mutated MITF proteins lose the DNA-binding activity and fail to transactivate the promoter of tyrosinase, a melanocyte-specific enzyme. However, these mutated proteins do not appear to interfere with the activity of wild-type MITF protein in these assays, indicating that they do not show a dominant-negative effect. These findings suggest that the phenotypes of the two families with WS2A in the present study are caused by loss-of-function mutations in one of the two alleles of the MITF gene, resulting in haploinsufficiency of the MITF protein, the protein necessary for normal development of melanocytes.