Sphingomonas sp. LB126 is able to utilize fluorene as sole source of carbon and energy. In the present study, a mutagenic vector was constructed and a "plasmid rescue" strategy was set up to isolate a 16.5-kb DNA fragment containing genes required for fluorene degradation. A 14.5-kb portion of the cloned DNA was sequenced revealing thirteen open reading frames. Two encoded hypothetical proteins (FldE and FldY) similar to transcriptional regulators and one (ORF360) located on an IS-like element (ISSsp126) encoded a putative transposase. Three other putative proteins (FldB, FldU and FldV) displayed strong similarity with enzymes of the protocatechuate 4,5-degradation pathway utilized by Sphingomonaspaucimobilis SYK-6 for the degradation of lignin breakdown products. The remaining hypothetical proteins displayed only limited similarity with enzyme sequences available from databases. Suicide plasmid-directed mutagenesis and genetic complementations showed that integrity of the protocatechuate catabolic pathway was an absolute requirement for fluorene degradation to proceed. These findings were further supported by the analysis of metabolites in bacterial culture supernatants obtained from appropriate mutants. The results presented here demonstrated the suitability of the genetic tool constructed and supplied the first genetic evidence for the participation of a protocatechuate 4,5-degradation pathway in a bacterial fluorene degradation pathway.