Canavan disease is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait that is caused by the deficiency of aspartoacylase (ASPA). The majority of patients with Canavan disease are from an Ashkenazi Jewish background. Mutations in ASPA that lead to loss of enzymatic activity have been identified, and E285A and Y231X are the two predominant mutations that account for 97% of the mutant chromosomes in Ashkenazi Jewish patients. The current study was aimed at finding the molecular basis of Canavan disease in 25 independent patients of non-Jewish background. Eight novel and three previously characterized mutations accounted for 80% (40/50) of mutant chromosomes. The A305E missense mutation accounted for 48% (24/50) of mutant chromosomes in patients of western European descent, while the two predominant Jewish mutations each accounted for a single mutant chromosome. The eight novel mutations identified included 1- and 4-bp deletions (32 deltaT and 876 deltaAGAA, respectively) and I16T, G27R, D114E, G123E, C152Y, and R168C missense mutations. The homozygous 32 deltaT deletion was identified in the only known patient of African-American origin with Canavan disease. The heterozygosity for 876 deltaAGAA mutation was identified in three independent patients from England. Six single-base changes leading to missense mutations were identified in patients from Turkey (D114E, R168C), The Netherlands (I16T), Germany (G27R), Ireland (C152Y), and Canada (G123E). A PCR-based protocol is described that was used to introduce mutations in wild-type cDNA. In vitro expression of mutant cDNA clones demonstrated that all of these mutations led to a deficiency of ASPA and should therefore result in Canavan disease.