Ornithine transcarbamylase (OTC) is an important enzyme in the detoxification of ammonia to urea, and its deficiency is the most common inborn error of ureagenesis in humans. Among 24 cases of OTC deficiency previously examined, three unrelated individuals all showed loss of a Taq I site in the OTC gene corresponding to codon 109, suggesting that this Taq I site may be prone to mutation. Two of these patients demonstrated the same C----T transition (in antisense strand) converting Arg109 to Gln. Although these studies implied a strong association between the missense mutation and OTC-deficient phenotype, a causal relationship could not be firmly established. We have investigated this relationship by reconstructing the mutation in vitro. A full-length human OTC cDNA was cloned into an SV40-based expression vector and has been reproducibly expressed at high levels in the cell line Cos1. By site-directed mutagenesis of this wild type sequence, we constructed a missense mutation which contains the C----T transition. Electroporation and transient assay in Cos1 indicated that the specific activity of mutant OTC was 100-fold lower than that of wild type. This result confirms that the Taq I alteration leading to the Gln missense is responsible for the OTC deficiency affecting the above patients.