Certain Salmonella serovars belonging to subspecies I carry a large, low-copy-number plasmid that contains virulence genes. Virulence plasmids are required to trigger systemic disease; their involvement in the enteric stage of the infection is unclear. Salmonella virulence plasmids are heterogeneous in size (50-90 kb), but all share a 7.8 kb region, spv, required for bacterial multiplication in the reticuloendothelial system. Other loci of the plasmid, such as the fimbrial operon pef, the conjugal transfer gene traT and the enigmatic rck and rsk loci, may play a role in other stages of the infection process. The virulence plasmid of Salmonella typhimurium LT2 is self-transmissible; virulence plasmids from other serovars, such as Salmonella enteritidis and Salmonella choleraesuis, carry incomplete tra operons. The presence of virulence plasmids in host-adapted serovars suggests that virulence plasmid acquisition may have expanded the host range of Salmonella.