A proteome approach, combining high-resolution two-dimensional electrophoresis (2-DE) with mass spectrometry, was used to compare the cellular protein composition of two virulent strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis with two attenuated strains of Mycobacterium bovis Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG), in order to identify unique proteins of these strains. Emphasis was given to the identification of M. tuberculosis specific proteins, because we consider these proteins to represent putative virulence factors and interesting candidates for vaccination and diagnosis of tuberculosis. The genome of M. tuberculosis strain H37Rv comprises nearly 4000 predicted open reading frames. In contrast, the separation of proteins from whole mycobacterial cells by 2-DE resulted in silver-stained patterns comprising about 1800 distinct protein spots. Amongst these, 96 spots were exclusively detected either in the virulent (56 spots) or in the attenuated (40 spots) mycobacterial strains. Fifty-three of these spots were analyzed by mass spectrometry, of which 41 were identified, including 32 M. tuberculosis specific spots. Twelve M. tuberculosis specific spots were identified as proteins, encoded by genes previously reported to be deleted in M. bovis BCG. The remaining 20 spots unique for M. tuberculosis were identified as proteins encoded by genes that are not known to be missing in M. bovis BCG.