Bruton X-linked agammaglobulinemia (XLA) is a phenotypically recessive genetic disorder of B lymphocyte development. Female carriers of XLA, although asymptomatic, have a characteristic B cell lineage-specific skewing of the pattern of X inactivation. Skewing apparently results from defective growth and maturation of B cell precursors bearing a mutant active X chromosome. In this study, carrier status was tested in 58 women from 22 families referred with a history of agammaglobulinemia. Primary carrier analysis to examine patterns of X inactivation in CD19+ peripheral blood cells (B lymphocytes) was conducted using quantitative PCR at the androgen-receptor locus. Obligate carriers of XLA demonstrated > 95% skewing of X inactivation in peripheral blood CD19+ cells but not in CD19- cells. Carrier status for mothers of isolated affected males could be assessed in 10 of 11 families: 7 women showed skewing, and 3 did not. Five carriers were found in six families in which there were no living affected males. Among all those tested, one individual's carrier status was considered to be indeterminate and five women were noninformative for the carrier test. Results obtained by the carrier test were congruent with linkage analysis (where applicable) using the RFLPs DXS178 and DXS94 and two newly developed polymorphic microsatellite markers, DXS178CA and DXS101AAT. Refinements in techniques for primary carrier testing and genetic mapping of XLA now make possible an ordered approach to diagnosis, prenatal diagnosis, and genetic counseling.