Interphase fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) with chromosome 21-specific cosmid clones was used to identify trisomy 21 in cultured and uncultured amniotic cells. Two novel site-specific cosmid clones (regions 21q22 and 21qtel) were compared with a cosmid contig (Zheng et al., 1992). Correct identification of chromosome 21 copy number was made in 65-75 per cent of trisomic cells and in 70-75 per cent of normal disomic cells by using all the tested probes. However, the chromosome 21-specific telomeric probe (cos 17F8) showed the best results due to more intense and clearly visible hybridization. Utilization of a directly fluorophorated telomeric probe using Cy3-dCTP and FluorX-dCTP allows accurate detection of chromosome 21 in a fast 'one-step' FISH procedure on uncultured interphase nuclei. In addition, we compared the efficacy of FISH analysis for the total population of interphase cells and cells in the post-replication (late S, G2) periods of the cell cycle. Selective scoring of cells in the post-replicative period (showing a pair of hybridization signals on each chromatid of the replicated interphase chromosome) increased the number of informative nuclei by up to 95-97 per cent. This approach allows cells with overlapping chromosomes, artificial double hybridization signals on separate chromatids in interphase chromosomes, background hybridization, and polyploid cells to be analysed. Application of directly labelled telomeric cosmid probes and integral analysis of hybridized nuclei in the pre- and post-replication periods of the cell cycle may help to further improve the prenatal detection of trisomy 21.