The minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs) of mupirocin were determined by the E test (AB Biodisk, Sweden) and the agar dilution method for 107 staphylococci. The organisms consisted of 34 coagulase-negative staphylococci and 73 methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers designed to amplify a 456 bp region of the plasmid-borne isoleucyl tRNA synthetase gene (ileS-2), responsible for high-level mupirocin resistance in staphylococci, were used on DNA preparations from these isolates. Isolates with high-level mupirocin resistance due to the ileS-2 gene should be PCR positive. There was close correlation between the E test and agar dilution MIC values, with only two strains differing by more than two serial dilutions. Most (51 of 54 strains) of the high-level resistant strains (MIC>256 microg/ml) were resistant to the highest concentration of mupirocin tested (1024 microg/ml). PCR correctly classified all but four (96%) of the isolates in accordance with the results of agar dilution. All four isolates that gave discrepant results were methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Two of these were PCR positive, yet the MIC of mupirocin for these strains was <0.06 microg/ml; on prolonged incubation they produced halos within the inhibition zone on agar diffusion testing, suggesting that the phenotypic results may have been erroneous. One of 54 isolates for which the MIC exceeded 256 microg/ml was PCR negative when tested by the original methodology, but a 456 bp product was produced when retested using a lowered annealing temperature. One isolate for which the MIC of mupirocin was 16 microg/ml by agar dilution and 8 microg/ml by the E test was positive by PCR. PCR of the ileS-2 gene is a useful, rapid method for detecting high-level mupirocin resistance in staphylococci.