We have used bivariate flow karyotyping to quantify the deletions involving chromosome 17 in sixteen patients with Smith-Magenis syndrome (SMS). The fluorescence intensities of mitotic chromosomes stained with Hoechst 33258 and chromomycin were quantified in a dual-beam flow cytometer. For each patient, the position of the peak representing the deleted chromosome 17 was compared to those of the normal homologs of an unaffected parent. The patients could be classified into four groups based on the size of their deletions. The deletions ranged from approximately 9-10 Mb (approximately 10-11% of the chromosome) to below the detection limit of the technique (2 Mb). Different deletion sizes were detected among patients whose high-resolution banding results were similar. Some deletions detected by banding were not detected by flow analyses. Deletion estimates are largely consistent with the results of molecular analyses. Patients with larger deletions that extend into band 17p 12 have abnormal electrophysiologic studies of peripheral nerves. Deletion size does not appear to correlate with the degree of mental retardation, presence of behavioral abnormalities, craniofacial anomalies or common skeletal findings in SMS. By identifying patients with varying deletion sizes, these data will aid the construction of a long-range deletion-based map of 17p11.2 and identification of the genes involved in this syndrome.