In 42 cases of trisomy 13 at 10–14 weeks of gestation, compared with 947 controls, the median multiple of the median (MoM) of maternal serum free β-human chorionic gonadotrophin (β-hCG) and pregnancy associated plasma protein A (PAPP-A) was significantly decreased (0.506 MoM and 0.248 MoM respectively), whilst fetal nuchal translucency was increased (2.872 MoM). In 38% and 71% of cases of trisomy 13 maternal serum free β-hCG and PAPP-A was below the 5th centile of the appropriate normal range for gestation and in 62% of cases the nuchal translucency was above the 95th centile. When combined together in a multivariate algorithm with maternal age, 90% of cases of trisomy 13 could be detected at a 0.5% false positive rate or 84% at a 0.1% false positive rate. We conclude that specific trisomy 13 risks should be part of developing risk algorithms combining maternal serum biochemistry and nuchal translucency for use in first trimester screening alongside those for trisomy 21 and trisomy 18. Copyright © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.