Hereditary pancreatitis is due to heterozygosity for gain-of-function mutations in the cationic trypsinogen gene which result in increased levels of active trypsin within pancreatic acinar cells and autodigestion of the pancreas. The number of disease-causing defects is generally considered to be low. To gain further insight into the molecular basis of this disorder, DNA sequence analysis of all five exons was performed in 109 unrelated patients with idiopathic chronic pancreatitis in order to determine the variability of the underlying mutations. Two German females and one German male were carriers of the most common N291 and R122H mutations (trypsinogen numbering system). In a Turkish proband, an arginine (CGT) to cysteine (TGT) substitution at amino acid position 116 was identified. Family screening demonstrated that the patient had inherited the mutation from his asymptomatic father and that he had transmitted it to both of his children, his daughter being symptomatic since the age of 3 years. In addition, a German male was found to be a heterozygote for a D100H (GAC-->CAC) amino acid replacement. Our data provide evidence for genetic heterogeneity of hereditary pancreatitis. The growing number of cationic trypsinogen mutations is expected to change current mutation screening practices for this disease.