The main clinical feature of bipolar affective disorder is a change of mood to depression or elation. Unipolar disorder, also termed major depressive disorder, describes the occurrence of depression alone without episodes of elevated mood. Little is understood about the underlying causes of these common and severe illnesses which have estimated lifetime prevalences in the region of 0.8% for bipolar and 6% for unipolar disorder. Strong support for a genetic aetiology is found in the familial nature of the condition, the increased concordance of monozygotic over dizygotic twins and adoption studies showing increased rates of illness in children of affected parents. However, linkage studies have met with mixed success. An initial report of linkage on the short arm of chromosome 11 (ref. 4) was revised and remains unreplicated. Reports proposing cosegregation of genes found on the X chromosome with bipolar illness have not been supported by others. More recently bipolar disorder has been reported to be linked with markers on chromosomes 18, 21, 16 and a region on the X chromosome different from those previously suggested. We have carried out a linkage study in twelve bipolar families. In a single family a genome search employing 193 markers indicated linkage on chromosome 4p where the marker D4S394 generated a two-point lod score of 4.1 under a dominant model of inheritance. Three point analyses with neighbouring markers gave a maximum lod score of 4.8. Eleven other bipolar families were typed using D4S394 and in all families combined there was evidence of linkage with heterogeneity with a maximum two-point lod score of 4.1 (theta = 0, alpha = 0.35).