The transcription of prophage genes was studied in two lysogenic Streptococcus thermophilus cells by Northern blot and primer-extension experiments. In the lysogen containing the cos-site phage Sfi21 only two gene regions of the prophage were transcribed. Within the lysogeny module an 1.6-kb-long mRNA started at the promoter of the phage repressor gene and covered also the next two genes, including a superinfection exclusion (sie) gene. A second, quantitatively more prominent 1-kb-long transcript was initiated at the promoter of the sie gene. Another prophage transcript of 1.6-kb length covered a group of genes without database matches that were located between the lysin gene and the right attachment site. The rest of the prophage genome was transcriptionally silent. A very similar transcription pattern was observed for a S. thermophilus lysogen containing the pac-site phage O1205 as a prophage. Prophages from pathogenic streptococci encode virulence genes downstream of the lysin gene. We speculate that temperate phages from lactic streptococci also encode nonessential phage genes ("lysogenic conversion genes") in this region that increase the ecological fitness of the lysogen to further their own evolutionary success. A comparative genome analysis revealed that many temperate phages from low GC content Gram-positive bacteria encode a variable number of genes in that region and none was linked to known phage-related function. Prophages from pathogenic streptococci encode toxin genes in this region. In accordance with theoretical predictions on prophage-host genome interactions a prophage remnant was detected in S. thermophilus that had lost most of the prophage DNA while transcribed prophage genes were spared from the deletion process.