Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans, a periodontal pathogen, has been strongly implicated in human periodontal disease. Advances in the molecular analysis of A. actinomycetemcomitans virulence factors have been limited due to the unavailability of systems for genetic transfer, transposon mutagenesis, and gene complementation. Slow progress can be traced almost exclusively to the lack of gene vector systems and methods for the introduction of DNA into A. actinomycetemcomitans. An electrotransformation system that allowed at least five strains of A. actinomycetemcomitans to be transformed with stable shuttle plasmids which efficiently replicated in both Escherichia coli and A. actinomycetemcomitans was developed. One plasmid, a potential shuttle vector designated pDL282, is 5.7 kb in size, has several unique restriction enzyme sites, and codes for resistance to spectinomycin and ampicillin. E. coli and A. actinomycetemcomitans were transformed with equal efficiencies of approximately 10(5) transformants per micrograms of DNA. Similar transformation efficiencies were obtained whether the plasmid DNA was isolated from A. actinomycetemcomitans or E. coli. In addition, frozen competent cells of A. actinomycetemcomitans yielded comparable efficiencies of transformation. Restriction enzyme analysis of pDL282 isolated after transformation confirmed the presence of intact donor plasmids. A plasmid isolated from A. pleuropneumoniae was also capable of transforming some isolates of A. actinomycetemcomitans, although generally at a lower frequency. The availability of these shuttle plasmids and an efficient transformation procedure should significantly facilitate the molecular analysis of virulence factors of A. actinomycetemcomitans.