Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome is a clinically recognizable, multiple congenital anomaly syndrome usually associated with terminal deletion of the short arm of chromosome 4. A girl with clinical features of Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome did not show an obvious deletion of chromosome 4, and a molecular defect was suspected. RFLPs of genomic DNA from the proband and her parents were studied using DNA probes from the distal region of chromosome 4p. Fluorescence in situ hybridization using a cosmid p847.351 containing the fragment 847 E-C was performed to investigate the possibility of a subtle translocation. Cytogenetic analyses done on the child and on both parents did not conclusively reveal abnormalities of chromosome 4. Molecular studies using two probes mapped to distal 4p showed the absence of the maternal haplotype in the child. These findings are thus consistent with a molecular deletion of 4p and confirm the diagnosis of Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome. Cytogenetic experiments involving fluorescence in situ hybridization showed that the mother carried a subtle translocation between chromosomes 4 and 19, 46,XX,t(4,19)(p16.3; p13.3), which resulted in an unbalanced form in the child. Chorionic villus sampling for prenatal diagnosis in a subsequent pregnancy showed the fetus to be unaffected. This provides the first evidence, in chromosome 4p, of a molecular deletion due to a subtle, inherited translocation leading to the Wolf-Hirschhorn phenotype. Such subtle translocations may become an important mechanism for some recurrent genetic defects.