Idiopathic generalized epilepsies account for about 40% of epilepsy up to age 40 and commonly have a genetic basis. One type is benign familial neonatal convulsions (BFNC), a dominantly inherited disorder of newborns. We have identified a sub-microscopic deletion of chromosome 20q13.3 that co-segregates with seizures in a BFNC family. Characterization of cDNAs spanning the deleted region identified one encoding a novel voltage-gated potassium channel, KCNQ2, which belongs to a new KQT-like class of potassium channels. Five other BFNC probands were shown to have KCNQ2 mutations, including two transmembrane missense mutations, two frameshifts and one splice-site mutation. This finding in BFNC provides additional evidence that defects in potassium channels are involved in the mammalian epilepsy phenotype.