Progressive myoclonus epilepsy (EPM1) is an autosomal recessive disorder, characterized by severe, stimulus-sensitive myoclonus and tonic-clonic seizures. The EPM1 locus was mapped to within 0.3 cM from PFKL in chromosome 21q22.3. The gene for the proteinase inhibitor cystatin B was recently localized in the EPM1 critical region, and mutations were identified in two EPM1 families. We have identified six nucleotide changes in the cystatin B gene of non-Finnish EPM1 families from northern Africa and Europe. The 426G-->C change in exon 1 results in a Gly4Arg substitution and is the first missense mutation described that is associated with EPM1. Molecular modeling predicts that this substitution severely affects the contact of cystatin B with papain. Mutations in the invariant AG dinucleotides of the acceptor sites of introns 1 and 2 probably result in abnormal splicing. A deletion of two nucleotides in exon 3 produces a frameshift and truncates the protein. Therefore, these four mutations are all predicted to impair the production of functional protein. These mutations were found in 7 of the 29 unrelated EPM1 patients analyzed, in homozygosity in 1, and in heterozygosity in the others. The remaining two sequence changes, 431G-->T and 2575A-->G, probably represent polymorphic variants. In addition, a tandem repeat in the 5' UTR (CCCCGCCCCGCG) is present two or three times in normal alleles. It is peculiar that in the majority of patients no mutations exist within the exons and splice sites of the cystatin B gene.