Two familial and seven sporadic patients with neurofibromatosis 1 - who showed dysmorphism, learning disabilities/mental retardation, and additional signs and carried deletions of the NF1 gene - were investigated by use of a two-step FISH approach to characterize the deletions. With FISH of YAC clones belonging to a 7-Mb 17q11.2 contig, we estimated the extension of all of the deletions and identified the genomic regions harboring the breakpoints. Mosaicism accounted for the mild phenotype in two patients. In subsequent FISH experiments, performed with locus-specific probes generated from the same YACs by means of a novel procedure, we identified the smallest region of overlapping (SRO), mapped the deletion breakpoints, and identified the genes that map to each deletion interval. From centromere to telomere, the ~0.8-Mb SRO includes sequence-tagged site 64381, the SUPT6H gene (encoding a transcription factor involved in chromatin structure), and NF1. Extending telomerically from the SRO, two additional genes - BLMH, encoding a hydrolase involved in bleomycin resistance, and ACCN1, encoding an amiloride-sensitive cation channel expressed in the CNS - were located in the deleted intervals of seven and three patients, respectively. An apparently common centromeric deletion breakpoint was shared by all of the patients, whereas a different telomeric breakpoint defined a deletion interval of 0.8-3 Mb. There was no apparent correlation between the extent of the deletion and the phenotype. This characterization of gross NF1 deletions provides the premise for addressing correctly any genotype-phenotype correlation in the subset of patients with NF1 deletions.