Mutations in either of two recently identified genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, are thought to be responsible for approximately two-thirds of all cases of autosomal-dominantly inherited breast cancer. To examine the nature and frequency of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations in Japanese families exhibiting a high incidence of breast cancer, we screened 78 unrelated families in this category for mutations of these two genes. Examining the entire coding sequences as well as exon-intron boundaries of both genes by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) single-strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) and multiplex-SSCP analysis, we identified possible disease-causing alterations in BRCA1 among affected members of 15 families and in BRCA2 in another 14 families. In 15 of those 29 families, the affected individuals carried missense mutations, although most germline mutations reported worldwide have been deletions or nonsense mutations. Our results, indicating that missense mutations of BRCA1 and BRCA2 tend to predominate over frameshifts or nonsense mutations in Japanese breast cancer families, will contribute significantly to an understanding of mammary tumorigenesis in Japan, and will be of vital importance for future genetic testing.