The mammalian sex chromosomes are composed of two genetically distinct segments: the pseudoautosomal region, where recombination occurs between the X and Y chromosomes, and the sex chromosome-specific parts. Between these two segments the human sex chromosomes differ by the insertion of an Alu element on the Y chromosome. We have surveyed the sequence variation in the boundary region using the polymerase chain reaction. Fifty seven Y and sixty X chromosomes from ten different human populations were analysed. The X chromosomes were found to be polymorphic at five positions in a 300-base-pair region. By contrast, all Y chromosomes were identical except for one distal polymorphism shared with the X chromosome.