In most patients with isolated unilateral retinoblastoma, tumor development is initiated by somatic inactivation of both alleles of the RB1 gene. However, some of these patients can transmit retinoblastoma predisposition to their offspring. To determine the frequency and nature of constitutional RB1-gene mutations in patients with isolated unilateral retinoblastoma, we analyzed DNA from peripheral blood and from tumor tissue. The analysis of tumors from 54 (71%) of 76 informative patients showed loss of constitutional heterozygosity (LOH) at intragenic loci. Three of 13 uninformative patients had constitutional deletions. For 39 randomly selected tumors, SSCP, hetero-duplex analysis, sequencing, and Southern blot analysis were used to identify mutations. Mutations were detected in 21 (91%) of 23 tumors with LOH. In 6 (38%) of 16 tumors without LOH, one mutation was detected, and in 9 (56%) of the tumors without LOH, both mutations were found. Thus, a total of 45 mutations were identified in tumors of 36 patients. Thirty-nine of the mutations-including 34 small mutations, 2 large structural alterations, and hypermethylation in 3 tumors-were not detected in the corresponding peripheral blood DNA. In 6 (17%) of the 36 patients, a mutation was detected in constitutional DNA, and 1 of these mutations is known to be associated with reduced expressivity. The presence of a constitutional mutation was not associated with an early age at treatment. In 1 patient, somatic mosaicism was demonstrated by molecular analysis of DNA and RNA from peripheral blood. In 2 patients without a detectable mutation in peripheral blood, mosaicism was suggested because 1 of the patients showed multifocal tumors and the other later developed bilateral retinoblastoma. In conclusion, our results emphasize that the manifestation and transmissibility of retinoblastoma depend on the nature of the first mutation, its time in development, and the number and types of cells that are affected.