Primary distal renal tubular acidosis (dRTA) is characterized by reduced ability to acidify urine, variable hyperchloremic hypokalemic metabolic acidosis, nephrocalcinosis, and nephrolithiasis. Kindreds showing either autosomal dominant or recessive transmission are described. Mutations in the chloride-bicarbonate exchanger AE1 have recently been reported in four autosomal dominant dRTA kindreds, three of these altering codon Arg589. We have screened 26 kindreds with primary dRTA for mutations in AE1. Inheritance was autosomal recessive in seventeen kindreds, autosomal dominant in one, and uncertain due to unknown parental phenotype or sporadic disease in eight kindreds. No mutations in AE1 were detected in any of the autosomal recessive kindreds, and analysis of linkage showed no evidence of linkage of recessive dRTA to AE1. In contrast, heterozygous mutations in AE1 were identified in the one known dominant dRTA kindred, in one sporadic case, and one kindred with two affected brothers. In the dominant kindred, the mutation Arg-589/Ser cosegregated with dRTA in the extended pedigree. An Arg-589/His mutation in the sporadic case proved to be a de novo mutation. In the third kindred, affected brothers both have an intragenic 13-bp duplication resulting in deletion of the last 11 amino acids of AE1. These mutations were not detected in 80 alleles from unrelated normal individuals. These findings underscore the key role of Arg-589 and the C terminus in normal AE1 function, and indicate that while mutations in AE1 cause autosomal dominant dRTA, defects in this gene are not responsible for recessive disease.