A survey of all Streptococcus pneumoniae GenBank/EMBL DNA sequence entries and of the public domain sequence (representing more than 90% of the genome) of an S. pneumoniae type 4 strain allowed identification of 108 copies of a 107-bp-long highly repeated intergenic element called RUP (for repeat unit of pneumococcus). Several features of the element, revealed in this study, led to the proposal that RUP is an insertion sequence (IS)-derivative that could still be mobile. Among these features are: (1) a highly significant homology between the terminal inverted repeats (IRs) of RUPs and of IS630-Spn1, a new putative IS of S. pneumoniae; and (2) insertion at a TA dinucleotide, a characteristic target of several members of the IS630 family. Trans-mobilization of RUP is therefore proposed to be mediated by the transposase of IS630-Spn1. To account for the observation that RUPs are distributed among four subtypes which exhibit different degrees of sequence homogeneity, a scenario is invoked based on successive stages of RUP mobility and non-mobility, depending on whether an active transposase is present or absent. In the latter situation, an active transposase could be reintroduced into the species through natural transformation. Examination of sequences flanking RUP revealed a preferential association with ISs. It also provided evidence that RUPs promote sequence rearrangements, thereby contributing to genome flexibility. The possibility that RUP preferentially targets transforming DNA of foreign origin and subsequently favours disruption/rearrangement of exogenous sequences is discussed.