The tectorial membrane is an extracellular matrix of the inner ear that contacts the stereocilia bundles of specialized sensory hair cells. Sound induces movement of these hair cells relative to the tectorial membrane, deflects the stereocilia, and leads to fluctuations in hair-cell membrane potential, transducing sound into electrical signals. Alpha-tectorin is one of the major non-collagenous components of the tectorial membrane. Recently, the gene encoding mouse alpha-tectorin (Tecta) was mapped to a region of mouse chromosome 9, which shows evolutionary conservation with human chromosome 11q (ref. 3), where linkage was found in two families, one Belgian (DFNA12; ref. 4) and the other, Austrian (DFNA8; unpublished data), with autosomal dominant non-syndromic hearing impairment. We determined the complete sequence and the intron-exon structure of the human TECTA gene. In both families, mutation analysis revealed missense mutations which replace conserved amino-acid residues within the zona pellucida domain of TECTA. These findings indicate that mutations in TECTA are responsible for hearing impairment in these families, and implicate a new type of protein in the pathogenesis of hearing impairment.