We analyzed the hMLH1 gene in 17 unrelated families with putative hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer. The complete hMLH1 cDNA was amplified in one step, and after a second amplification, four overlapping segments were directly sequenced. We detected, in five families that did not meet the complete Amsterdam criteria, five alterations, including a double-base change resulting in a missense mutation (Lys-618-Ala), a splicing mutation affecting the intron 4 splice acceptor site, a 2-bp deletion at codon 726, a 7-bp deletion at codon 626, and a deletion of exons 13–16. The latter alteration was shown to result from a 22-kb genomic deletion due to a homologous recombination between Alu repeats located in introns 12 and 16. The detection of five germline hMLH1 mutations in five families that only partially fulfilled the Amsterdam criteria shows that these criteria do not allow the identification of all familial colorectal cancers due to mutations of the mismatch repair genes. The numerous Alu repeats present within the hMLH1 gene and the observation of large genomic deletions suggest that (a) Alu-mediated deletions might frequently be involved in hMLH1 inactivation, and (b) reverse transcription-PCR analysis, which allows the amplification of the entire coding region of the hMLH1 gene in one step, might be the most appropriate method for the detection of hMLH1 alterations.

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This work was supported by l'Association pour la Recherche sur le Cancer, la Fédération Nationale des Centres de Lutte Contre le Cancer, La Ligue Nationale Contre le Cancer, Le Groupement des Entreprises Françaises dans la Lutte Contre le Cancer.

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