To test the reliability of linkage-disequilibrium analysis for gene mapping, we compared physical distance and linkage disequilibrium among seven polymorphisms in the adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) region on chromosome 5. Three of them lie within the APC gene, and two lie within the nearby MCC (mutated in colon cancer) gene. One polymorphism lies between the two genes, and one is likely to be 5' of MCC. Five of these polymorphisms are newly reported. All polymorphisms were typed in the CEPH kindreds, yielding 179-205 unrelated two-locus haplotypes. Linkage disequilibrium between each pair of polymorphisms is highly correlated with physical distance in this 550-kb region (correlation coefficient -.80, P < .006). This result is replicated in both the Utah and non-Utah CEPH kindreds. There is a tendency for greater disequilibrium among pairs of polymorphisms located within the same gene than among other pairs of polymorphisms. Trigenic, quadrigenic, three-locus, and four-locus disequilibrium measures were also estimated, but these measures revealed much less disequilibrium than did the two-locus disequilibrium measures. A review of 19 published disequilibrium studies, including this one, shows that linkage disequilibrium nearly always correlates significantly with physical distance in genomic regions > 50-60 kb but that it does not do so in smaller genomic regions. We show that this agrees with theoretical predictions. This finding helps to resolve controversies regarding the use of disequilibrium for inferring gene order. Disequilibrium mapping is unlikely to predict gene order correctly in regions < 50-60 kb in size but can often be applied successfully in regions of 50-500 kb or so in size. It is convenient that this is the range in which other mapping techniques, including chromosome walking and linkage mapping, become difficult.