We have identified the molecular basis for familial lipoprotein lipase (LPL) deficiency in two unrelated families with the syndrome of familial hyperchylomicronemia. All 10 exons of the LPL gene were amplified from the two probands' genomic DNA by polymerase chain reaction. In family 1 of French descent, direct sequencing of the amplification products revealed that the patient was heterozygous for two missense mutations, Gly188----Glu (in exon 5) and Asp250----Asn (in exon 6). In family 2 of Italian descent, sequencing of multiple amplification products cloned in plasmids indicated that the patient was a compound heterozygote harboring two mutations, Arg243----His and Asp250----Asn, both in exon 6. Studies using polymerase chain reaction, restriction enzyme digestion (the Gly188----Glu mutation disrupts an Ava II site, the Arg243----His mutation, a Hha I site, and the Asp250----Asn mutation, a Taq I site), and allele-specific oligonucleotide hybridization confirmed that the patients were indeed compound heterozygous for the respective mutations. LPL constructs carrying the three mutations were expressed individually in Cos cells. All three mutant LPLs were synthesized and secreted efficiently; one (Asp250----Asn) had minimal (approximately 5%) catalytic activity and the other two were totally inactive. The three mutations occurred in highly conserved regions of the LPL gene. The fact that the newly identified Asp250----Asn mutation produced an almost totally inactive LPL and the location of this residue with respect to the three-dimensional structure of the highly homologous human pancreatic lipase suggest that Asp250 may be involved in a charge interaction with an alpha-helix in the amino terminal region of LPL. The occurrence of this mutation in two unrelated families of different ancestries (French and Italian) indicates either two independent mutational events affecting unrelated individuals or a common shared ancestral allele. Screening for the Asp250----Asn mutation should be included in future genetic epidemiology studies on LPL deficiency and familial combined hyperlipidemia.