Nonsyndromic cleft lip with or without cleft palate (CL +/- P) is traditionally recognized as a multifactorial threshold trait (MFT). Recently, however, evidence for the involvement of a major gene in the etiology of CL +/- P has been reported. To assess the potential for major-gene involvement in the etiology of this trait, familial recurrence patterns from several family studies of CL +/- P were reanalyzed. The recurrence patterns in first-degree relatives of CL +/- P probands were found to be compatible with the expectations for either an MFT or a generalized single-major-locus (gSML) trait. The use of multiple thresholds based on proband sex, defect bilaterality, or palatal involvement did not help to discriminate between these models. However, the pattern of recurrence among MZ twins and more remote relatives of CL +/- P probands is not consistent with gSML inheritance but is compatible with either an MFT model or a model specifying multiple interacting loci. For such a model, no single locus can account for more than a sixfold increase in risk to first-degree relatives. These findings have important implications with regard to the feasibility of detecting linkage to loci conferring susceptibility to CL +/- P.