BACKGROUND: The 15q24 microdeletion syndrome has been recently described as a recurrent, submicroscopic genomic imbalance found in individuals with intellectual disability, typical facial appearance, hypotonia, and digital and genital abnormalities. Gene dosage abnormalities, including copy number variations (CNVs), have been identified in a significant fraction of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). In this study we surveyed two ASD cohorts for 15q24 abnormalities to assess the frequency of genomic imbalances in this interval. METHODS: We screened 173 unrelated subjects with ASD from the Central Valley of Costa Rica and 1336 subjects with ASD from 785 independent families registered with the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) for CNVs across 15q24 using oligonucleotide arrays. Rearrangements were confirmed by array comparative genomic hybridization and quantitative PCR. RESULTS: Among the patients from Costa Rica, an atypical de novo deletion of 3.06 Mb in 15q23-q24.1 was detected in a boy with autism sharing many features with the other 13 subjects with the 15q24 microdeletion syndrome described to date. He exhibited intellectual disability, constant smiling, characteristic facial features (high anterior hairline, broad medial eyebrows, epicanthal folds, hypertelorism, full lower lip and protuberant, posteriorly rotated ears), single palmar crease, toe syndactyly and congenital nystagmus. The deletion breakpoints are atypical and lie outside previously characterized low copy repeats (69,838-72,897 Mb). Genotyping data revealed that the deletion had occurred in the paternal chromosome. Among the AGRE families, no large 15q24 deletions were observed. CONCLUSIONS: From the current and previous studies, deletions in the 15q24 region represent rare causes of ASDs with an estimated frequency of 0.1 to 0.2% in individuals ascertained for ASDs, although the proportion might be higher in sporadic cases. These rates compare with a frequency of about 0.3% in patients ascertained for unexplained intellectual disability and congenital anomalies. This atypical deletion reduces the minimal interval for the syndrome from 1.75 Mb to 766 kb, implicating a reduced number of genes (15 versus 38). Sequencing of genes in the 15q24 interval in large ASD and intellectual disability samples may identify mutations of etiologic importance in the development of these disorders.