Most pathogenic missense mutations cause specific molecular phenotypes through protein destabilization. However, how protein destabilization is manifested as a given molecular phenotype is not well understood. We develop here a structural and energetic approach to describe mutational effects on specific traits such as function, regulation, stability, subcellular targeting or aggregation propensity. This approach is tested using large-scale experimental and structural perturbation analyses in over thirty mutations in three different proteins (cancer-Associated NQO1, transthyretin related with amyloidosis and AGT linked to primary hyperoxaluria type I) and comprising five very common pathogenic mechanisms (loss-of-function and gain-of-Toxic function aggregation, enzyme inactivation, protein mistargeting and accelerated degradation). Our results revealed that the magnitude of destabilizing effects and, particularly, their propagation through the structure to promote disease-Associated conformational states largely determine the severity and molecular mechanisms of disease-Associated missense mutations. Modulation of the structural perturbation at a mutated site is also shown to cause switches between different molecular phenotypes. When very common disease-Associated missense mutations were investigated, we also found that they were not among the most deleterious possible missense mutations at those sites, and required additional contributions from codon bias and effects of CpG sites to explain their high frequency in patients. Our work sheds light on the molecular basis of pathogenic mechanisms and genotype-phenotype relationships, with implications for discriminating between pathogenic and neutral changes within human genome variability from whole genome sequencing studies. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: email@example.com.