A genomic DNA library of Staphylococcus epidermidis NCTC 11047 was constructed, using the Lambda Zap Express cloning vector, and screened with serum collected from a patient with S. epidermidis endocarditis. Sequence analysis of a 30 kDa cloned protein, termed staphylococcal secretory antigen, SsaA, identified a novel protein not previously reported in S. epidermidis. SsaA showed strong homology with two other staphylococcal proteins: SceB from Staphylococcus carnosus and a staphyloxanthin biosynthesis protein from Staphylococcus aureus. Further investigation revealed SsaA to be a highly antigenic protein that was expressed in vivo and could be recovered from whole cells and from the culture supernatant. A combination of Western blot analysis and PCR screening identified SsaA or a homologue in 103/103 staphylococcal strains. SsaA-like genes were not detected in other Gram-positive bacteria of medical importance or a number of Gram-negative organisms. Elevated anti-SsaA IgG antibody levels were detected in sera of five patients with S. epidermidis endocarditis but not in patients with other S. epidermidis infections, endocarditis of other aetiologies or patients with no evidence of infection. The expression of SsaA during episodes of S. epidermidis endocarditis suggests a virulence role specific to the pathogenesis of this infectious disease.