Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) is a common genetic disorder caused by inactivation of neurofibromin, a protein capable of modulating signal transduction by activating Ras-GTPase activity. We have used cDNA cloning and Northern blot analysis to confirm the NF1 gene produces alternatively polyadenylated mRNAs with 3' untranslated regions (3' UTR) that show striking evolutionary conservation. Scanning of the 3'UTRs for genetic variation revealed three common sequence polymorphisms (> 30% heterozygosity), one less informative polymorphism (approximately 5% heterozygosity) and one rare variant (1/144 chromosomes). These differences were used to examine relative levels of expression of normal and mutant NF1 alleles in lymphoblast cell lines and in one case, autopsy tissue, from patients with NF1. Unequal allelic expression (up to 4-fold) was observed in a subset of both sporadic and familial NF1 cases. Where linkage phase could be determined, the allele segregating with the disorder displayed a relative reduction in expression. However, the magnitude of this effect was variable suggesting the operation of additional, non-genetic factors in determining the degree of relative expression of the mutant allele.