Serum samples from 320 women with chromosomally normal fetuses and from 50 women with fetuses affected by Down's syndrome were assayed retrospectively for human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), pregnancy-specific beta 1 glycoprotein (SP1), alpha fetoprotein (AFP), and unconjugated estriol (uE3) between 14 and 21 weeks of gestation. Nonparametric discriminant analysis was applied to calculate Down syndrome risks on the basis of various combinations of serum parameters. At a risk threshold that falsely identifies 5% of controls as being affected, 46 to 48% of Down syndrome pregnancies were detected by combinations of hCG/AFP, hCG/AFP/uE3, and hCG/AFP/uE3/SP1 respectively. HCG, AFP, and uE3 were assayed in 652 serum samples from women who underwent amniocentesis because of maternal age (> or equal to 35 years in this prospective study). 49% of women with euploid fetal karyotype, 8 of 10 pregnancies with Down's syndrome, and 3 pregnancies with sex chromosomal anomalies were identified as being at an increased risk (> 1:380).