An extensive set of chromosome 15 DNA polymorphisms and densitometric analysis with four markers mapping to the Prader–Willi chromosome region (PWCR) of chromosome 15 have been used to characterize a cohort of 30 subjects with classical Prader–Willi syndrome (PWS). Molecular analysis enabled the classification of the PWS subjects into four groups: (A) 18 subjects (60%) had deletions of paternal 15q11–13 involving a common set of DNA markers. Two subjects had differently sized deletions, one larger and one smaller than the other cases. (B) Eight (27%) had maternal uniparental disomy for chromosome 15. (C) One (3%) had a marker chromosome carrying an extra copy of the PWCR. The marker chromosome was demonstrated to be of paternal origin and the two intact chromosomes were maternally derived. This case represents an apparent exception to the generally held view that PWS is associated with an absence of paternally inherited gene(s) located in the PWCR. (D) The remaining three cases (10%) had none of the above abnormalities. This last subgroup of patients has not previously been well characterized but could represent limited deletions not detectable with the markers used or abnormalities in the imprinting process. These cases represent potentially valuable resources to elucidate more precisely the fundamental disorders responsible for PWS. © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.