Although it is established that the loss of function of both alleles of the RB1 gene is a prerequisite for the development of retinoblastoma, little is known about the genetic events that are required for tumor progression. We used comparative genomic hybridization (CGH) to search for DNA copy number changes in isolated unilateral retinoblastomas. From a series of 66 patients with retinoblastomas with somatic mutations in both RB1 alleles, tumor samples from 13 children with the youngest (2.0-9.8 months) and 13 with the oldest (36.2-84.1 months) age at operation were studied. Loss at 13q14, the location of RB1, was demonstrated in two tumors only. Recurring chromosome imbalances included gains at 6p (11/26), 1q (10/26), 2p (4/26), and 17q (4/26), gains of the entire chromosome 19 (3/26), and losses at 16q (9/26). A commonly gained region at 1q32 was identified. Increased dosage of GAC1, a candidate oncogene located in 1q32, was found in two of four tumors by Southern blot analysis. Comparison of the CGH findings revealed that retinoblastomas from children with an older age at operation showed significantly more frequent (13/13 cases vs 4/13 cases; P = 0.0005) and more complex genetic abnormalities (median, 5 changes/abnormal tumor vs median, 1.5 changes/abnormal tumor; P = 0.003) than retinoblastomas from children with a young age at operation. Gains at 1q, 2p, 17q, of the entire chromosome 19 and losses of 16q were restricted to the older age group. Our results suggest that the progression of retinoblastomas from older patients follows mutational pathways different from those of younger patients.