The complete nucleotide sequence of the fourth gene of symptomatic (Wa, DS-1, P, and VA70) and asymptomatic (M37, 1076, McN13, and ST3) rotaviruses of serotype 1, 2, 3, or 4 was determined by the dideoxy chain termination method. In each strain, the fourth gene, which encodes the outer capsid protein VP3, is 2,359 base pairs in length and has 5'- and 3'-noncoding regions of 9 and 25 nucleotides, respectively. The gene has a single long open reading frame of 2,325 base pairs that is capable of coding for a protein of 775 amino acids. A total of 14 N-terminal and 12 C-terminal amino acids are completely conserved or almost completely conserved, respectively, among nine human rotavirus VP3 genes that have been sequenced. In addition, there is conservation of arginine at the two trypsin cleavage sites as well as conservation of clusters of amino acids in different regions of the two VP3 cleavage products, VP8 and VP5. Three distinct forms of VP3 were identified among the nine human rotavirus strains analyzed. Three symptomatic rotaviruses (serotypes 1, 3, and 4) possess highly related VP3 genes (92.2 to 97% nucleotide identity). Two symptomatic serotype 2 rotaviruses possess VP3 genes which are even more closely related to each other (98.6% nucleotide identity) and only moderately related to the aforementioned VP3 genes of serotypes 1, 3, and 4 (87.4 to 88.2% nucleotide identity). The four asymptomatic rotaviruses, which constitute the third group, possess highly related VP3 genes (95.5 to 97.5% nucleotide identity) which are distinct from those of the virulent rotaviruses (73 to 74.8% nucleotide identity). At 91 positions in the protein sequence of VP3, an amino acid is conserved among the asymptomatic rotaviruses, while a different amino acid is conserved among the symptomatic rotaviruses. Notably, five regions are conserved among the symptomatic rotaviruses, while a different set of sequences are conserved among the asymptomatic rotaviruses. It is possible that some or all of these regions of sequence dimorphism may be responsible for the difference in virulence of these two groups of human rotaviruses. There are 13 regions in the VP3 protein sequence which exhibit the greatest variability; the majority of these variable regions are observed between amino acids 106 to 192. These regions may represent potential antigenic sites related to heterotypic rotavirus neutralization.