The involvement of abnormalities of the BRCA1 gene in breast cancers in Japanese patients without any family history of this cancer was investigated by polymerase chain reaction-based single-strand conformation polymorphism analysis of the DNA sequences corresponding to the zinc finger domain (exons 2, 3 and 5) and the binding domain with Rad51 (exon 11) of the BRCA1 protein. An identical nonsense mutation at codon 63 (TTA to TAA) was found in 2 of 56 (3.5%) breast cancers from independent patients. The nucleotide change was also detected in the DNAs from non-cancerous tissues of both patients and therefore was a germline mutation. One of the patients was a member of a pedigree involving 3 ovarian cancer and 1 gastric cancer patients, while the other patient had no family history of malignancy. The same germline mutation at codon 63 was reported in four other independent Japanese pedigrees with frequent breast cancer, but not in such families in other countries. These observations suggest that the mutation commonly originated from a single Japanese ancestor. No other mutation of the BRCA1 gene was observed in the samples analyzed in this study. A low incidence of germline mutation and the absence of somatic mutation suggest that the aberration of the BRCA1 gene is involved only in a subset of Japanese breast cancers.