This study was designed to increase the diagnostic detection rate for subtelomeric unbalanced chromosomal rearrangements (UCRs) that are believed to cause 3-5% of all cases of mental retardation (MR), but often remain undetected by routine karyotyping because of limited resolution in light microscopy. Increased detection of such cryptic UCRs may be achieved by CGH- or SNP-array technology adapted for genome wide screening but these techniques are labor-intensive and expensive. We have implemented subtelomeric Multiplex Ligation-dependant Probe Amplification (MLPA), a relatively low cost and technically uncomplicated molecular approach, as a high throughput prospective screening tool for UCRs in MR patients. We prospectively studied a cohort of 466 MR patients and detected 53 aberrant MLPA signals. After exclusion of false-positives, potential familial polymorphisms and of non-cryptic UCRs also found in routine chromosome analysis, 18 cases or 3.9% of total could be confirmed as true cryptic subtelomeric UCRs. These were 6 terminal deletions, 8 unbalanced translocations, 3 Prader-Willi deletions and 1 subtelomeric interstitial deletion. This result increases our laboratory's detection rate in this patient cohort from 8.3% (without MLPA) to 12.2% (with MLPA), representing a 47% improvement. This study demonstrates that when applying MLPA in a routine cytogenetic diagnostic setting, a major increase of the diagnostic yield can be achieved.