Nephropathic cystinosis is an autosomal recessive disorder that is characterized by accumulation of intralysosomal cystine and is caused by a defect in the transport of cystine across the lysosomal membrane. Using a positional cloning strategy, we recently cloned the causative gene, CTNS, and identified pathogenic mutations, including deletions, that span the cystinosis locus. Two types of deletions were detected-one of 9.5-16 kb, which was seen in a single family, and one of approximately 65 kb, which is the most frequent mutation found in the homozygous state in nearly one-third of cystinotic individuals. We present here characterization of the deletion breakpoints and demonstrate that, although both deletions occur in regions of repetitive sequences, they are the result of nonhomologous recombination. This type of mechanism suggests that the approximately 65-kb deletion is not a recurrent mutation, and our results confirm that it is identical in all patients. Haplotype analysis shows that this large deletion is due to a founder effect that occurred in a white individual and that probably arose in the middle of the first millenium. We also describe a rapid PCR-based assay that will accurately detect both homozygous and heterozygous deletions, and we use it to show that the approximately 65-kb deletion is present in either the homozygous or the heterozygous state in 76% of cystinotic patients of European origin.