Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) and Angelman syndrome (AS) are distinct mental retardation disorders associated with deletions of proximal 15q (q11-q13) of different parental origin. Yeast artificial chromosome (YAC) clones were isolated for 9 previously mapped DNA probes from this region, and for one newly derived marker, LS6-1 (D15S113). A YAC contig of 1-1.5 Mb encompassing four markers (ML34, IR4-3R, PW71, and TD189-1) was constructed. Multi-color fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) analysis of interphase nuclei was combined with YAC contig information to provide the following order of markers: cen-IR39-ML34-IR4-3R-PW71-TD189-1-LS6++ +-1-TD3-21-GABRB3-IR10-1-CMW1-tel. FISH analysis was performed on 8 cases of PWS and 3 cases of AS, including 5 patients with normal karyotypes. All eleven patients were deleted for YACs in the interval from IR4-3R to GABRB3. On the proximal side of the deletion interval, 10/10 breakpoints fell within a single ML34 YAC of 370 kb. On the distal side, 8/9 breakpoints fell within a single IR10-1 YAC of 200 kb. These results indicate a striking consistency in the location of the proximal and distal breakpoints in PWS and AS patients. FISH analysis on a previously reported case of familial AS confirmed a submicroscopic deletion including YACs corresponding to LS6-1, TD3-21 and GABRB3 and supports the separation of the PWS and AS critical regions. Since these three YACs do not overlap each other, the minimum size of the AS critical region is > or = 650 kb.