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The frequency of selected papA DNA sequences among 89 digalactoside-binding, uropathogenic Escherichia coli strains was evaluated with 12 different synthetic 15-base probes corresponding to papA genes from four digalactoside-binding piliated recombinant strains (HU849, 201B, and 200A). The papA probes encode amino acids which are common at the carboxy terminus of all strains, adjacent to the proximal portion of the intramolecular disulfide loop of strain 210B, or predicted to constitute the type-specific epitope for each of the four recombinant strains or other epitopes of strain HU849. The presence among the strains of DNA sequence homology to the papA probes was determined by in situ colony hybridization. Hybridization data suggest that there is a high frequency of homologous papA DNA sequences corresponding to selected regions of the papA gene from strain HU849 among the clinical strains. The following nucleotide locations which encode portions of the mature HU849 PapA are detected in a high percentage (42 to 70%) of clinical isolates: 208 to 222, 310 to 324, 478 to 492, 517 to 531, 553 to 567, and 679 to 693. These sequences encode portions of the predicted protective, immunogenic, and/or antigenic epitopes of this PapA. The data also indicate considerable heterogeneity of papA sequences among the strains, especially in the region of nucleotide bases corresponding to positions 391 to 418. These oligonucleotides encode the predicted PapA type-specific immunogenic dominant epitope. Determination of the extent of genetic variability in the papA gene among digalactoside-binding strains will require more extensive DNA sequencing of prototypic papA genes, additional hybridization studies employing other papA gene oligonucleotide probes, and assessment of the different pap operons and their copy number in each strain.