Five patients with inv dup(15) chromosomes were investigated with molecular probes on proximal 15q to determine the parental origin and extent of the duplicated segment. Cytogenetic investigation showed that four patients carried one and a fifth patient had two extra chromosomes derived from number 15 in all cells. In situ hybridization with a chromosome 15 library and a centromere 15 probe confirmed that the entire inv dup chromosomes were derived from chromosome 15. Molecular analysis using probes mapping in the region deleted in Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) and Angelman syndrome (AS) patients implied that in at least two patients the extra chromosomes were asymmetric with one copy of the PWS region on the extra marker chromosome but two copies of the region centromeric to the PWS region. Three other cases had an inv dup(15) with two extra copies of the PWS region, but in one of these, heteromorphisms clearly demonstrated that the two centromeres derived from two different chromosomes. The inv dup(15) presumably resulted from an illegitimate recombination event between two different chromosomes 15 in most or all of these cases. All patients showed a maternal origin of the duplicated chromosome. The clinical severity appears to be associated with dosage of the PWS/AS region rather than with differences in the extent of the duplicated segment.