We characterized at the molecular level the genomic rearrangements in 28 unrelated patients with 9q34.3 subtelomeric deletions. Four distinct categories were delineated: terminal deletions, interstitial deletions, derivative chromosomes and complex rearrangements; each results in haploinsufficiency of the EHMT1 gene and a characteristic phenotype. Interestingly, 25% of our patients had de novo interstitial deletions, 25% were found with derivative chromosomes and complex rearrangements and only 50% were bona fide terminal deletions. In contrast to genomic disorders that are often associated with recurrent rearrangements, breakpoints involving the 9q34.3 subtelomere region are highly variable. Molecular studies identified three regions of breakpoint grouping. Interspersed repetitive elements such as Alu, LINE, long-terminal repeats and simple tandem repeats are frequently observed at the breakpoints. Such repetitive elements may play an important role by providing substrates with a specific DNA secondary structure that stabilizes broken chromosomes or assist in either DNA double-strand break repair or repair of single double-strand DNA ends generated by collapsed forks. Sequence analyses of the breakpoint junctions suggest that subtelomeric deletions can be stabilized by both homologous and nonhomologous recombination mechanisms, through a telomere-capture event, by de novo telomere synthesis, or multistep breakage-fusion-bridge cycles.