Duplications of chromosome region 15q11q13 often occur as a supernumerary chromosome 15. Less frequently they occur as interstitial duplications [dup(15)]. We describe the clinical and molecular characteristics of three patients with de novo dup(15). The patients, two males and one female (ages 3-21 years), had nonspecific findings that included autistic behavior, hypotonia, and variable degrees of mental retardation. The extent, orientation, and parental origin of the duplications were assessed by fluorescent in situ hybridization, microsatellite analyses, and methylation status at D15S63. Two patients had large direct duplications of 15q11q13 [dir dup(15)(q11q13)] that extended through the entire Angelman syndrome/Prader-Willi syndrome (AS/PWS) chromosomal region. Their proximal and distal breaks, at D15S541 or D15S9 and between D15S12 and D15S24, respectively, were comparable to those found in the common AS/PWS deletions. This suggests that duplications and deletions may be the reciprocal product of an unequal recombination event. These two duplications were maternally derived, but the origin of the chromatids involved in the unequal crossing over in meiosis differs. In one patient, the duplication originated from two different maternal chromosomes, while in the other patient it arose from the same maternal chromosome. The third patient had a much smaller duplication that involved only D15S11 and parental origin could not be determined. There was no obvious correlation between phenotype and extent of the duplication in these patients.