Seventeen patients presenting with either de novo or familial supernumerary marker (mar) 15 chromosomes were shown by fluorescent in situ hybridization techniques (FISH) to have markers derived from and composed entirely of chromosome 15 material. Using a combination of conventional cytogenetics, FISH, Southern blotting and multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR) methods, it was possible to sub-classify the 17 mar(15)s into six distinct morphological and molecular groups. Analysis of DNA and metaphase spreads from the probands and their parents using probes and primers from the pericentromeric and Prader-Willi/Angelman syndromes critical regions (PWS/AS), clearly differentiated between marker 15s which included the PWS/AS critical regions and those which did not. A direct correlation between the presence of the PWS/AS region in the mar(15) and severe mental retardation was observed. Based on these results, a system of classification of supernumerary marker 15 chromosomes is proposed.