Restriction endonuclease analysis of human genomic DNA has previously revealed several prominent repeated DNA families defined by regularly spaced enzyme recognition sites. One of these families, termed alpha satellite DNA, was originally identified as tandemly repeated 340- or 680-base pair (bp) EcoRI fragments that hybridize to the centromeric regions of human chromosomes. We have investigated the molecular organization of alpha satellite DNA on individual human chromosomes by filter hybridization and in situ hybridization analysis of human DNA and DNA from rodent/human somatic cell hybrids, each containing only a single human chromosome. We used as probes a cloned 340-bp EcoRI alpha satellite fragment and a cloned alpha satellite-containing 2.0-kilobase pair (kbp) BamHI fragment from the pericentromeric region of the human X chromosome. In each somatic cell hybrid DNA, the two probes hybridized to a distinct subset of DNA fragments detected in total human genomic DNA. Thus, alpha satellite DNA on each of the human chromosomes examined--the X and Y chromosomes and autosomes 3, 4, and 21--is organized in a specific and limited number of molecular domains. The data indicate that subsets of alpha satellite DNA on individual chromosomes differ from one another, both with respect to restriction enzyme periodicities and with respect to their degree of sequence relatedness. The results suggest that some, and perhaps many, human chromosomes are characterized by a specific organization of alpha satellite DNA at their centromeres and that, under appropriate experimental conditions, cloned representatives of alpha satellite subfamilies may serve as a new class of chromosome-specific DNA markers.