Huntington's disease (HD) chromosomes contain an expanded unstable (CAG)n repeat in chromosome 4p16.3. We have examined nine families with potential de novo expression of the disease. With one exception, all of the affected individuals had 42 or more repeat units, well above the normal range. In four families, elderly unaffected relatives inherited the same chromosome as that containing the expanded repeat in the proband, but had repeat lengths of 34 38 units, spanning the gap between the normal and HD distributions. Thus, mutation to HD is usually associated with an expansion from an already large repeat. © 1993 Nature Publishing Group.