The standard diagnostic methods for pertussis have several shortcomings. With the increased knowledge of the Bordetella pertussis genome a specific and conserved DNA sequence, present in about 70-80 copies in each genome, was selected for amplification with the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique in order to evaluate its diagnostic potential in children with suspected pertussis. The 400 basepair DNA sequence chosen was present and amplified in all 112 B. pertussis strains and in no other bacterial species examined. The specificity of the amplified material was documented by restriction enzyme cleavage. In nasopharyngeal aspirates a B. pertussis specific PCR product was visualized in 19/25 culture positive and in 5/50 culture negative children. In conclusion the present PCR assay for B. pertussis can be clinically useful and permit a specific diagnosis within 1 day after sampling. Further studies are requested to document its sensitivity, specificity and predictive value for positive and negative results.