The genetic environment of plasmid-borne blaTEM mutant genes, encoding nine distinct TEM-type extended-spectrum beta-lactamases, was studied in transconjugants from clinical isolates of enterobacteria. Colony hybridization with probes specific for tnpA and tnpR of Tn3, tnpA and tnpI of Tn21, aacA4, and IS15, and restriction endonuclease analysis of plasmid DNA indicated that the structural genes for the enzymes were always associated with intact or deleted variants of the Tn3 family. Four of the nine blaTEM variants, which account for 62% of 222 isolates in a molecular epidemiological study, were associated with replicons indistinguishable from the epidemic Inc7-M plasmid pCFF04 that carries the blaTEM-3 gene. This suggests that mutant genes were selected from the same prototype plasmid carrying penicillinase genes blaTEM-1 or -2. A 6.6 kb DNA fragment of pCFF04 containing blaTEM-3 was characterized by amplification mapping and sequencing. The results obtained indicated that blaTEM-3 was present on a copy of Tn1 interrupted at the start codon of the transposase by a DNA sequence reminiscent of the inverted repeats of class II transposons. This partial Tn1 copy was in turn, inserted into the transposase gene of a Tn21-like transposon containing an integron expressing an aacA4 gene. The presence of an integron can account for the various assortments of aminoglycoside resistance genes found associated with blaTEM-3.