With the aim of understanding the mechanism of maintenance of protein polymorphism, we have studied the properties of allele frequency distribution and the number of alleles per locus, using gene-frequency data from a wide range of organisms (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, Drosophila and non-Drosophila invertebrates) in which 20 or more loci with at least 100 genes were sampled. The observed distribution of allele frequencies was U-shaped in all of the 138 populations (mostly species or subspecies) examined and generally agreed with the theoretical distribution expected under the mutation-drift hypothesis, though there was a significant excess of rare alleles (gene frequency, 0 approximately 0.05) in about a quarter of the populations. The agreement between the mutation-drift theory and observed data was quite satisfactory for the numbers of polymorphic (gene frequency, 0.05 approximately 0.95) and monomorphic (0.95 approximately 1.0) alleles.-The observed pattern of allele-frequency distribution was incompatible with the prediction from the overdominance hypothesis. The observed correlations of the numbers of rare alleles, polymorphic alleles and monomorphic alleles with heterozygosity were of the order of magnitude that was expected under the mutation-drift hypothesis. Our results did not support the view that intracistronic recombination is an important source of genetic variation. The total number of alleles per locus was positively correlated with molecular weight in most of the species examined, and the magnitude of the correlation was consistent with the theoretical prediction from mutation-drift hypothesis. The correlation between molecular weight and the number of alleles was generally higher than the correlation between molecular weight and heterozygosity, as expected.