Familial hyperinsulinism (HI) is a disorder characterized by dysregulation of insulin secretion and profound hypoglycemia. Mutations in both the Kir6.2 and sulfonylurea receptor (SUR1) genes have been associated with the autosomal recessive form of this disorder. In this study, the spectrum and frequency of SUR1 mutations in HI and their significance to clinical manifestations of the disease were investigated by screening 45 HI probands of various ethnic origins for mutations in the SUR1 gene. Single-strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) and nucleotide sequence analyses of genomic DNA revealed a total of 17 novel and three previously described mutations in SUR1. The novel mutations comprised one nonsense and 10 missense mutations, two deletions, three mutations in consensus splice-site sequences and an in-frame insertion of six nucleotides. One mutation occurred in the first nucleotide binding domain (NBF-1) of the SUR1 molecule and another eight mutations were located in the second nucleotide binding domain (NBF-2), including two at highly conserved amino acid residues within the Walker A sequence motif. The majority of the remaining mutations was distributed throughout the three putative transmembrane domains of the SUR1 protein. With the exception of the 3993-9G→A mutation, which was detected on 4.5% (4/88) disease chromosomes, allelic frequencies for the identified mutations varied between 1.1 and 2.3% for HI chromosomes, indicating that each mutation was rare within the patient cohort. The clinical manifestations of HI in those patients homozygous for mutations in the SUR1 gene are described. In contrast with the allelic homogeneity of HI previously described in Ashkenazi Jewish patients, these findings suggest that a large degree of allelic heterogeneity at the SUR1 locus exists in non-Ashkenazi HI patients. These data have important implications for genetic counseling and prenatal diagnosis of HI, and also provide a basis to further elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying the pathophysiology of this disease.