Loss of all or part of the long arm of human chromosome 5 is a recurrent abnormality in patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), especially after chemotherapy for a prior malignancy. It is one of the worst prognostic indicators in AML, associated with chemotherapy resistance and short survival. These deletions center at band 5q31, which has thus been proposed as the location of a tumor suppressor gene; this site is to be distinguished from that observed in 5q- syndrome, centering at 5q32. To define the molecular extent and the clinical prevalence of 5q31 deletions, we collected a series of AML and MDS cases of mixed karyotype, taking care to exclude MDS cases with 5q- syndrome. The samples were analyzed for loss of heterozygosity (LOH) using a panel polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based microsatellite markers from 5q, comparing malignant cells with normal tissue derived from lymphoblastoid cell lines or buccal mucosa scrapings. Losses were detected in seven of 29 matched samples, including four of 17 with MDS, and three of 12 with AML; six of these seven also had a cytogenetically-visible del(5q) or -5. The one case without a cytogenetic deletion showed molecular loss of three contiguous markers, with retention of flanking markers interleukin-9 (IL-9) and D5S414, and thus contained a small deletion that is below cytogenetic resolution. PCR failed to detect 5q loss in two cases with large cytogenetic deletions, but both had been treated and contained low percentages of malignant cells in the samples. This study thus led to the identification of a case with a minimal deletion for the 5q31 tumor suppressor gene, specified by IL-9-D5S414, that is approximately 1 Mb (2 cM) in extent. Additionally, we demonstrate that PCR-based allelotyping is a reliable method for the detection of chromosomal deletion in myeloid malignancy, providing the specimens contain a high proportion of malignant cells. These studies will help to identify the tumor-suppressor gene at 5q31, and will help to develop molecular methods for diagnosis and monitoring of these disorders.