We conducted a cytogenetic study on 865 individuals with idiopathic mental retardation (MR) who were admitted to the Cytogenetics Department of the Iran Blood Transfusion Organisation (IBTO) Research Centre, Tehran, Iran; these were performed on blood samples using conventional staining methods. Chromosome anomalies were identified in 205 of the patients (23.6%). The majority were Down’s syndrome cases (n = 138). In 33 males, a positive fragile X anomaly was found. The remainder (n = 34) had other chromosomal abnormalities including structural chromosome aberrations (n = 23), marker chromosomes with an unknown origin (n = 3), sex chromosome aneuploidy (n = 6) and trisomy 18 (n = 2). The contribution of chromosome aberrations to the cause of MR in this group of patients is discussed.