Williams syndrome (WS) is generally characterized by mental deficiency, gregarious personality, dysmorphic facies, supravalvular aortic stenosis, and idiopathic infantile hypercalcemia. Patients with WS show allelic loss of elastin (ELN), exhibiting a submicroscopic deletion, at 7q11.23, detectable by FISH. Hemizygosity is likely the cause of vascular abnormalities in WS patients. A series of 235 patients was studied, and molecular cytogenetic deletions were seen in 96% of patients with classic WS. Patients included 195 solicited through the Williams Syndrome Association (WSA), plus 40 clinical cytogenetics cases referred by primary-care physicians. Photographs and medical records of most WSA subjects were reviewed, and patients were identified as "classic" (n = 114) or "uncertain" (n = 39). An additional 42 WSA patients were evaluated without clinical information. FISH was performed with biotinylated ELN cosmids on metaphase cells from immortalized lymphoblastoid lines from WSA patients and after high-resolution banding analysis on clinical referral patients. An alpha-satellite probe for chromosome 7 was included in hybridizations, as an internal control. Ninety-six percent of the patients with classic WS showed a deletion in one ELN allele; four of these did not show a deletion. Of the uncertain WS patients, only 3 of 39 showed a deletion. Of the 42 who were not classified phenotypically, because of lack of clinical information, 25 patients (60%) showed a deletion. Thirty-eight percent (15/40) of clinical cytogenetics cases showed an ELN deletion and no cytogenetic deletion by banded analysis. These results support the usefulness of FISH for the detection of elastin deletions as an initial diagnostic assay for WS.