Non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) is a heterogeneous disorder characterized by hyperglycemia resulting from defects in insulin secretion and action. Recent studies have found mutations in the hepatocyte nuclear factor-4 alpha gene (HNF-4alpha) in families with maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY), an autosomal dominant form of diabetes characterized by early age at onset and a defect in glucose-stimulated insulin secretion. During the course of our search for susceptibility genes contributing to the more common late-onset NIDDM forms, we observed nominal evidence for linkage between NIDDM and markers in the region of the HNF-4alpha/MODY1 locus in a subset of French families with NIDDM diagnosed before 45 yr of age. Thus, we screened these families for mutations in the HNF-4alpha gene. We found a missense mutation, resulting in a valine-to-isoleucine substitution at codon 393 in a single family. This mutation cosegregated with diabetes and impaired insulin secretion, and was not present in 119 control subjects. Expression studies showed that this conservative substitution is associated with a marked reduction of transactivation activity, a result consistent with this mutation contributing to the insulin secretory defect observed in this family.