Genetic variants in intron 4 of the surfactant protein B gene SFTPB have been associated with pulmonary morbidity in newborn infants and adults. Genetic variant discovery in intron 4 requires high fidelity polymerase amplification due to a variable number of intermotif dinucleotide repeats and reliable characterization of alleles genetically distinct due to insertion, deletion, or both of 11 conserved sequence motifs. To optimize genetic variant discovery, we selected a high fidelity polymerase enzyme by replicate amplification and compared automated sequencing with agarose gel electrophoresis for all variant alleles (N=68) in a cohort of Missouri infants with (N=187) and without (N=53) respiratory distress. We identified and characterized six new alleles based on sequence motifs and two pairs of variant alleles with similar mobilities by agarose gel electrophoresis but distinct motif sequences. We confirmed uniformity of invariant alleles by sequencing (N=77). Logistic regression using race and intron 4 genotype for infants > or = 35 weeks gestation suggested that the invariant allele was independently associated with increased risk of respiratory distress (OR for the invariant allele 2.7, 95% CI 1.0-7.2). Reliable characterization of genetic variants in intron 4 requires both a high fidelity polymerase and sequencing of variant alleles.