The XNP/ATR-X gene is involved in several X-linked mental retardation phenotypes: the ATR-X syndrome, the Juberg-Marsidi syndrome, and some severe mental retardation phenotypes without alpha-thalassemia. Using a vectorette strategy, we have identified and sequenced the intron/exon boundaries of this gene. The gene is composed of 35 exons. It encodes a potential protein of 2492 amino acids. A search of the databases identified three zinc finger motifs within the 5' end of the gene. Expression analysis in different tissues indicated that an alternative splicing event that involves exon 6 is occurring. One of these alternatively spliced transcripts is predominantly expressed in embryonic tissues. These data led us to search for mutations in the 5' region in ATRX patients without other mutations in the 3' region. In one patient a mutation was found in which part of exon 7 was removed from the XNP transcript, as a result of a mutation creating a novel splice site that is substituted for the natural splice site. This new splicing event removed one zinc finger motif. This is the first example of a mutation in XNP within the 5' coding region. It suggests that mutations will be predominantly found in the helicase region as well as in the zinc finger regions and leads us to propose a large screening of additional patients.