Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) is the most common form of dysmorphic genetic obesity associated with mental retardation. About 60% of cases have a cytological deletion of chromosome 15q11q13 (refs 2, 3). These deletions occur de novo exclusively on the paternal chromosome. By contrast, Angelman syndrome (AS) is a very different clinical disorder and is also associated with deletions of region 15q11q13 (refs 6-8), indistinguishable from those in PWS except that they occur de novo on the maternal chromosome. The parental origin of the affected chromosomes 15 in these disorders could, therefore, be a contributory factor in determining their clinical phenotypes. We have now used cloned DNA markers specific for the 15q11q13 subregion to determine the parental origin of chromosome 15 in PWS individuals not having cytogenetic deletions; these individuals account for almost all of the remaining 40% of PWS cases. Probands in two families displayed maternal uniparental disomy for chromosome 15q11q13. This is the first demonstration that maternal heterodisomy--the presence of two different chromosome 15s derived from the mother--can be associated with a human genetic disease. The absence of a paternal contribution of genes in region 15q11q13, as found in PWS deletion cases, rather than a mutation in a specific gene(s) in this region may result in expression of the clinical phenotype. Thus, we conclude that a gene or genes in region 15q11q13 must be inherited from each parent for normal human development.