Studies of natural populations of Neisseria meningitidis using multilocus enzyme electrophoresis have shown extensive genetic variation within this species, which, it has been proposed, implies a level of sequence diversity within meningococci that is greater than that normally considered as the criterion for species limits in bacteria. To obtain a direct measure of the sequence diversity among meningococci, we obtained the nucleotide sequences of most of the argF, recA and fbp genes of eight meningococci of widely differing electrophoretic type (from the reference collection of Caugant). Sequence variation between the meningococcal strains ranged from 0-0.6% for fbp, 0-1.3% for argF, and 0-3.3% for recA. These levels of diversity are no greater than those found within Escherichia coli 'housekeeping' genes and suggest that multilocus enzyme electrophoresis may overestimate the extent of nucleotide sequence diversity within meningococci. The average sequence divergence between the Neisseria meningitidis strains and N. gonorrhoeae strain FA19 was 1.0% for fbp and 1.6% for recA. The argF gene, although very uniform among the eight meningococcal isolates, had a striking mosaic structure when compared with the gonococcal argF gene: two regions of the gene differed by greater than 13% in nucleotide sequence between meningococci and gonococci, whereas the rest of the gene differed by less than 1.7%. One of the diverged regions was shown to have been introduced from the argF gene of a commensal Neisseria species that is closely related to Neisseria cinerea. The source of the other region was unclear.