Cytogenetic studies were performed on human glioma samples obtained by stereotactic biopsy, stereotactic craniotomy, or routine craniotomy. Using in situ culture and robotic harvesting techniques, we obtained suitable metaphases in 50 (94%) of 53 tumors, including 28 diffuse astrocytomas, four juvenile pilocytic astrocytomas, two gliosarcomas, three other miscellaneous astrocytomas, eight oligodendrogliomas, four mixed oligodendroglioma-astrocytomas, and four ependymomas. Cytogenetic studies were performed only on primary cultures; the mean culture time was 9.6 days (range 1-31 days). One or more chromosomally abnormal clones were observed in 35 (66%) tumors. Eleven (21%) other specimens had random nonclonal chromosome abnormalities. In four (8%) specimens, no chromosome abnormalities were noted. The results of this study suggest that grade 3 and 4 tumors are more likely to contain an abnormal clone than tumors of grade 1 or 2 (p less than 0.01). The most common numeric chromosome abnormalities were -6, +7, -10, -13, -14, -15, -18, and -Y. The most common structural abnormalities involved 1p, 6q, 7q, 8p, 9p, 11p, 11q, 13q, and 19q. Four tumors had two or more independent clones and ten contained subclones demonstrating karyotype evolution. With in situ culture and robotic harvesting techniques, cytogenetic studies can be successful on nearly all human gliomas, including those derived from small stereotactic biopsies.