The development of probes containing segments of DNA from chromosome region 15q11-q13 provides the opportunity to confirm the diagnosis of Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) and Angelman syndrome (AS) by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). We have evaluated FISH studies and high resolution chromosome banding studies in 14 patients referred to confirm or rule out PWS and five patients referred to confirm or rule out AS. In four patients (three from the PWS category and 1 from the AS group) chromosome analysis suggested that a deletion was present but FISH failed to confirm the finding. In one AS group patient, FISH identified a deletion not detectable by high resolution banding. Review of the clinical findings in the discrepant cases suggested that the FISH results were correct and high resolution findings were erroneous. Studies with a chromosome 15 alpha satellite probe (D15Z) on both normal and abnormal individuals suggested that incorrect interpretation of chromosome banding may occasionally be attributable to alpha satellite polymorphism but other variation of 15q11-q13 chromosome bands also contributes to misinterpretation. We conclude that patients who have been reported to have a cytogenetic deletion of 15q11-q13 and who have clinical findings inconsistent with PWS and AS should be re-evaluated by molecular genetic techniques.