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In 15-20% of children with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), the underlying defect is adenosine deaminase (ADA) deficiency. The goal of this study was to determine the precise molecular defect in a patient with ADA-deficient SCID whom we previously have shown to have a total absence of ADA mRNA and a structural alteration of the ADA gene. By detailed Southern analysis, we now have determined that the structural alteration is a deletion of approximately 3.3 kb, which included exon 1 and the promoter region of the ADA gene. DNA sequence analysis demonstrates that the deletion created a novel, complete Alu repeat by homologous recombination between two existing Alu repeats that flanked the deletion. The 26-bp recombination joint in the Alu sequence includes the 10-bp "B" sequence homologous to the RNA polymerase III promoter. This is the first example of homologous recombination involving the B sequence in Alu repeats. Similar recombination events have been identified involving Alu repeats in which the recombination joint was located between the A and B sequences of the polymerase III split promoter. The nonrandom location of these events suggests that these segments may be hot spots for recombination.