Globoid-cell leukodystrophy (GLD) is an autosomal recessive inherited disorder caused by the deficiency of galactocerebrosidase, the lysosomal enzyme responsible for the degradation of the myelin glycolipid galactocerebroside. Although the most common form of the disease is the classical infantile form (Krabbe disease), later-onset forms also have been described. We have analyzed the galactocerebrosidase gene in 17 patients (nine families) with late-onset GLD and in 1 patient with classical Krabbe disease. Half of the patients were heterozygous for the large gene deletion associated with the 502C-->T polymorphism, the most common mutation in infantile patients. Several novel mutations that result in deficient galactocerebrosidase activity were also identified in these patients. They include the missense mutations R63H, G95S, M101L, G268S, Y298C, and I234T; the nonsense mutation S7X; a one-base deletion (805delG); a mutation that interferes with the splicing of intron 1; and a 34-nt insertion in the RNA, caused by the aberrant splicing of intron 6. All of these genetic defects are clustered in the first 10 exons of the galactocerebrosidase gene and therefore affect the 50-kD subunit of the mature enzyme. Studies on the distribution and enzymatic activity of the polymorphic alleles 1637T/C (I546/T546) provided support for previous data that had indicated the existence of two galactocerebrosidase forms with different catalytic activities in the general population. Our data also indicate that the mutations occur preferentially in the "low activity" 1637C allele.