Congenital lactase deficiency (CLD) is an autosomal recessive, gastrointestinal disorder characterized by watery diarrhea starting during the first 1-10 d of life, in infants fed lactose-containing milks. Since 1966, 42 patients have been diagnosed in Finland. CLD is the most severe form of lactase deficiency, with an almost total lack of lactase-phlorizin hydrolase (LPH) activity on jejunal biopsy. In adult-type hypolactasia, the most common genetic enzyme deficiency in humans, this enzyme activity is reduced to 5%-10%. Although the activity of intestinal LPH has been found to be greatly reduced in both forms, the molecular pathogenesis of lactase deficiencies is unknown. On the basis of the initial candidate-gene approach, we assigned the CLD locus to an 8-cM interval on chromosome 2q21 in 19 Finnish families. At the closest marker locus, a specific allele 2 was present in 92% of disease alleles. On the basis of a genealogical study, the CLD mutation was found to be enriched in sparsely populated eastern and northern Finland, because of a founder effect. The results of both the genealogical study and the haplotype analysis indicate that one major mutation in a novel gene causes CLD in the Finnish population. Consequently, the critical region could be restricted further, to an approximately 350-kb interval, by ancient-haplotype and linkage-disequilibrium analyses. Surprisingly, the LPH gene was shown to lie outside the critical CLD region, excluding it as a causative gene for CLD. The LPH locus was found to reside >2 Mb from the critical CLD region.