Patients with hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) have germ-line mutations in one of four DNA mismatch repair genes (hMSH2, hMLH1, hPMS1 and hPMS2). It is supposed that a single functional copy of these genes is sufficient for normal mismatch repair, but it is not certain that this is the case under abnormal conditions such as rapid cell division or an increased tendency to DNA replication errors (RERs). We have analysed mismatch repair by examining replication errors in immortalised lymphoblastoid cells derived from two HNPCC patients heterozygous for mismatch repair defects (one hMSH2 mutant and one hMLH1 mutant), and from control individuals. Three conditions of cell culture have been used: (i) relatively slow cell growth and division; (ii) relatively fast growth and division; and (iii) chronic perturbation of the intracellular dNTP pool to promote a increased frequency of replication errors. No significant differences in microsatellite instability were found between HNPCC patients and controls in any of these environments. Lymphoblastoid cells from hMSH2 and hMLH1 mutant/wild-type heterozygotes appear, therefore, to have normal levels of mismatch repair, even under conditions that increase the requirement for repair. The pool bias cultures from the HNPCC patients and controls did, however, show similar, increased frequencies of RERs, suggesting that the mismatch repair capacity of the cells had been overloaded, but that the number of normal HNPCC alleles was not the limiting factor.