Small ring (X) chromosomes lacking the XIST gene at Xq13.2 have been associated with a severe phenotype that includes mental retardation, facial dysmorphism and congenital abnormalities. It has been hypothesised that the loss of XIST results in functional disomy for the sequences contained in the ring. We studied 47 females with a 45,X/46,r(X) karyotype and found seven to have an XIST-negative ring. Only one of the seven patients had the severe phenotype. The remaining six patients had physical phenotypes consistent with Turner syndrome. The rings were characterised cytogenetically and molecularly. The severe phenotype in one patient can be explained by the absence of XIST expression, the relatively large amount of Xp material in the ring and, possibly, the concomitant maternal uniparental isodisomy. We propose three explanations for the unexpectedly mild phenotypes in the remaining six patients; (1) the rings contained limited amounts of X-chromosome material, and sequences that, when functionally disomic, result in a severe phenotype were absent; (2) mosaicism resulting in the absence of the ring from tissues, such as the brain, which are important in the severe phenotype and (3) the presence of an inactive X in some tissues at some time, exemplified by the demonstration of XIST expression in one patient.