Diseases causing inherited retinal degeneration in humans, such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular dystrophy, are genetically heterogeneous and clinically diverse. More than 40 genes causing retinal degeneration have been mapped to specific chromosomal sites; of these, at least 10 have been cloned and characterized. Mutations in two proteins, rhodopsin and peripherin/RDS, account for approximately 35% of all cases of autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa and a lesser fraction of other retinal conditions. This target article reviews the genes and mutations causing retinal degeneration and proposes mechanisms whereby specific mutations lead to particular clinical consequences, that is, the relationship between genotype and phenotype. Retinitis pigmentosa and macular dystrophy are genetically heterogeneous diseases that cause retinal degeneration in humans and often result in severe visual impairment or blindness. Although many of the genes causing these diseases have not been identified, three photoreceptor-specific proteins have been implicated: rhodopsin, peripherin/RDS, and the P-subunit of rod phosphodiesterase. Mutations in the genes for these three proteins can cause either dominant retinitis pigmentosa, recessive retinitis pigmentosa, dominant congenital stationary night blindness, or dominant macular degeneration. Why this multiplicity of clinical phenotypes? Our target article summarizes the genetic and biochemical background to this question and proposes a number of possible explanations. Discussion focuses mainly on 73 distinct disease-causing mutations of rhodopsin. We feel that rhodopsin and other photoreceptor proteins can serve as model systems for unraveling the connection between genotype and phenotype, not only for inherited retinal diseases but for other degenerative disorders as well.