Previously we have shown that the type strain of Lactobacillus acidophilus possesses two S-protein-encoding genes, one of which is silent, on a chromosomal segment of 6 kb. The S-protein-encoding gene in the expression site can be exchanged for the silent S-protein-encoding gene by inversion of this slp segment. In this study the presence of S-protein and corresponding S-protein-encoding genes of strains belonging to species that are closely related to L. acidophilus was determined. All strains investigated were identified by numerical comparison of highly standardized one-dimensional SDS-PAGE whole-cellular-protein patterns. Western blot and Southern blot methods were used to identify the presence of, and homology between, S-proteins and S-protein encoding genes. From these analyses we conclude that strains of L. acidophilus, L. crispatus, L. amylovorus and L. gallinarum possess an S-layer and contain two slp genes. Strains of L. helveticus possess an S-layer but have only one intact slp gene. Strains of L. gasseri, L. johnsonii and L. delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus have neither an S-layer nor S-protein-encoding genes hybridizing with probes derived from the L. acidophilus slpA or slpB region. The presence of a highly conserved 5' region in the slp genes of strains of L. acidophilus, L. crispatus, L. amylovorus and L. gallinarum suggests that S-layer variation is a common feature for strains of these species.