Cowden disease (CD) is a rare, autosomal dominant inherited cancer syndrome characterized by multiple benign and malignant lesions in a wide spectrum of tissues. While individuals with CD have an increased risk of breast and thyroid neoplasms, the primary features of CD are hamartomas. The gene for CD has been mapped by linkage analysis to a 6 cM region on the long arm of chromosome 10 at 10q22-23. Loss of heterozygosity (LOH) studies of sporadic follicular thyroid adenomas and carcinomas, both component tumors of CD, have suggested that the putative susceptibility gene for CD is a tumor suppressor gene. Somatic missense and nonsense mutations have recently been identified in breast, prostate, and brain tumor cell lines in a gene encoding a dual specificity phosphatase, PTEN/MMACI, mapped at 10q23.3. Furthermore, germline PTEN/MMACI mutations are associated with CD. In the present study, 20 hamartomas from 11 individuals belonging to ten unrelated families with CD have been examined for LOH of markers flanking and within PTEN/MMACI. Eight of these ten families have germline PTEN/MMACI mutations. LOH involving microsatellite markers within the CD interval, and including PTEN/MMACI, was identified in two fibroadenomas of the breast, a thyroid adenoma, and a pulmonary hamartoma belonging to 3 to 11 (27%) of these patients. The wild-type allele was lost in these hamartomas. Semi-quantitative PCR performed on RNA from hamartomas from three different tissues from a CD patient suggested substantial reduction of PTEN/MMACI RNA levels in all of these tissues. The LOH identified in samples from individuals with CD and the suggestion of allelic loss and reduced transcription in hamartomas from a CD patient provide evidence that PTEN/MMACI functions as a tumor suppressor in CD.