We evaluated the use of peptone-yeast extract (PY) medium, different strains of Hartmannella vermiformis, and gentamicin in a coculture system to improve the discrimination of virulent and avirulent strains of Legionella pneumophila. H. vermiformis ATCC 50256 was unique among four strains of H. vermiformis, in that it multiplied equally well in Medium 1034 and PY medium (Medium 1034 without fetal calf serum, folic acid, hemin, and yeast nucleic acid and with a 50% reduction of peptone). However, both a virulent strain of L. pneumophila and its avirulent derivative strain multiplied in cocultures when PY medium was used. The multiplication of this avirulent strain was greatly reduced by incorporating gentamicin (1 (mu)g/ml) into the cocultivation system. Five virulent-avirulent sets of L. pneumophila strains were then tested for multiplication in cocultures with H. vermiformis ATCC 50256 and the gentamicin-containing PY medium. Only the virulent strains multiplied. The modified cocultivation system can discriminate between virulent and avirulent strains of L. pneumophila.