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Over the past decade, Branhamella catarrhalis has emerged as an important human pathogen. The bacterium is a common cause of otitis media in children and of lower respiratory tract infections in adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. B. catarrhalis is exclusively a human pathogen. It colonizes the respiratory tract of a small proportion of adults and a larger proportion of children. Studies involving restriction enzyme analysis of genomic DNA show that colonization is a dynamic process, with the human host eliminating and acquiring new strains frequently. The surface of B. catarrhalis contains outer membrane proteins, lipooligosaccharide, and pili. The genes which encode several outer membrane proteins have been cloned, and some of these proteins are being studied as potential vaccine antigens. Analysis of the immune response has been limited by the lack of an adequate animal model of B. catarrhalis infection. New information regarding outer membrane structure should guide studies of the human immune response to B. catarrhalis. Immunoassays which specifically detect antibodies to determinants exposed on the bacterial surface will elucidate the most relevant immune response. The recognition of B. catarrhalis as an important human pathogen has stimulated research on the epidemiology and surface structures of the bacterium. Future studies to understand the mechanisms of infection and to elucidate the human immune response to infection hold promise of developing new methods to treat and prevent infections caused by B. catarrhalis.