The general usefulness of alpha-satellite DNA probes for the molecular, genetic, and cytogenetic analysis of the human genome is enhanced by their being chromosome specific. Here, we describe the isolation and characterization of an alpha-satellite subset specific for human chromosome 2. Three clones, p2-7, p2-8, and p2-11, obtained from an EcoRI-digested lambda phage library from flow-sorted chromosome 2, are specific for the centromere of chromosome 2 by somatic cell hybrid mapping and chromosomal in situ hybridization. Nucleotide sequence analysis identifies the chromosome 2-specific alpha-satellite subset D2Z1 as a member of the suprachromosomal subfamily II, which is based on a characteristic two-monomer repeat. The D2Z1 subset is further organized as a series of diverged 680-bp tetramers, revealed after digestion of genomic DNA with HaeIII, HindIII, HinfI, StuI, and XbaI. Using pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), probes p2-7, p2-8, and p2-11 detect polymorphic restriction patterns within the alpha-satellite array. Among 15 different chromosomes 2 (in two two-generation families and one three-generation family), the length of the D2Z1 alpha-satellite array varied between 1050 and 2900 kb (mean = 1850 kb, SD = 550 kb). The inheritance of the chromosome 2 alpha-satellite arrays and their associated polymorphisms was strictly Mendelian.