The fragile-X syndrome is the most frequent inherited form of mental retardation, with an incidence of 1 in 1,500 males. It is characterized by the presence of a fragile site at Xq27.3 induced in vitro by folate deprivation or by inhibitors of deoxynucleotide synthesis. Its mode of inheritance is unusual for an X-linked trait, with incomplete penetrance in both males and females. Some phenotypically normal males transmit the mutation to all their daughters who rarely express any symptoms, but penetrance is high in sons and daughters of these carrier women. Genetic and physical mapping of the Xq27-q28 region has confirmed that the disease locus is located at or very near the fragile site. Hypotheses proposed to account for the abnormalities in the inheritance of the disease include sequence rearrangements by meiotic recombination or a mutation that affects reactivation of an inactive X chromosome during differentiation of female germ cells. To detect such rearrangements, or methylation changes that may reflect a locally inactive X chromosome, we used pulsed-field gel analysis of DNA from fragile-X patients with probes close to the fragile-X locus. The probe Do33 (DXS465) detected abnormal patterns in fragile-X patients, but not in normal controls or in non-expressing male transmitters.