Repeated DNAs from the constitutive heterochromatin of human chromosomes 1 and 18 were used as probes in nonradioactive in situ hybridization experiments to define specific numerical and structural chromosome aberrations in three human glioma cell lines and one neuroblastoma cell line. The number of spots detected in interphase nuclei of these tumor cell lines and in normal diploid nuclei correlated well with metaphase counts of chromosomes specifically labeled by in situ hybridization. Rapid and reliable assessments of aneuploid chromosome numbers in tumor lines in double hybridization experiments were achieved, and rare cells with bizarre phenotype and chromosome constitution could be evaluated in a given tumor cell population. Even with suboptimal or rare chromosome spreads specific chromosome aberrations were delineated. As more extensive probe sets become available this approach will become increasingly powerful for uncovering various genetic alterations and their progression in tumor cells.