Coilin is a conserved protein essential for integrity of nuclear membrane-less inclusions called Cajal bodies. Here, we report an amino acid substitution (p.K496E) found in a widely-used human EGFP–coilin construct that has a dominant-negative effect on Cajal body formation. We show that this coilin-K496E variant fails to rescue Cajal bodies in cells lacking endogenous coilin, whereas the wild-type construct restores Cajal bodies in mouse and human coilin-knockout cells. In cells containing endogenous coilin, both the wild-type and K496E variant proteins accumulate in Cajal bodies. However, high-level overexpression of coilin-K496E causes Cajal body disintegration. Thus, a mutation in the C-terminal region of human coilin can disrupt Cajal body assembly. Caution should be used when interpreting data from coilin plasmids that are derived from this variant (currently deposited at Addgene).