The macrolide-lincosamide-streptogramin B (MLSB) resistance determinants have been detected among Clostridia in both C. perfringens and C. difficile strains. Previous studies have shown that MLSB-resistant C. difficile strains can be differentiated by specific hybridizing bands using an erm(B) probe. A recent study has demonstrated that C. difficile 630, a strain highly resistant to clindamycin and erythromycin (MIC > or = 256 ml/L), showing a hybridizing band at 9.7 kb, contains two copies of an erm(B) gene. It was also hypothesized that C. difficile 630 erm(B) determinant has arisen from a progenitor, represented by the C. perfringens CP592 determinant, which contains only one copy of an erm(B) gene that differs from C. difficile 630 erm(B) for seven nucleotide substitutions. To investigate the possibility that C. difficile strains with hybridizing fragments of different molecular size have an erm(B) determinant not identical to the one described in C. difficile 630, we performed a genetic analysis on the erm(B) determinant in 18 C. difficile strains, isolated from different sources. The results showed a heterogeneity in erm(B) determinant: C. difficile strains with hybridizing bands at 7.3 or 3.7 kb contained only one erm(B) copy, whereas strains with a band at 9.7 kb had two copies. The majority of the toxigenic strains examined was characterized by only one erm(B) copy with a sequence identical to the one found in C. difficile 630 and a lower resistance level for erythromycin (MICs ranging from 16 to 24 ml/L). Differently, some strains had an erm(B) gene identical to the one found in C. perfringens CP592. PCR ribotyping and clustering analysis indicate that the examined resistant strains, except one, belong to the same genetic lineage. These results seem to support the hypothesis of the evolution of the C. difficile 630 erm(B) determinant. The functional significance of one or two copies of erm(B) gene in C. difficile strains should be further investigated.