The possibility that the strains included within the Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC), but not belonging either to M. avium or to Mycobacterium intracellulare, may be members of undescribed taxa, has already been questioned by several taxonomists. A very homogeneous cluster of 12 strains characterized by identical nucleotide sequences both in the 16S rDNA and in the 16S-23S internal transcribed spacer was investigated. Similar strains, previously reported in the literature, had been assigned either to the species M. intracellulare on the basis of the 16S rDNA similarity or to the group of MAC intermediates. However, several phenotypical and epidemiological characteristics seem to distinguish these strains from all other MAC organisms. The unique mycolic acid pattern obtained by HPLC is striking as it is characterized by two clusters of peaks, instead of the three presented by all other MAC organisms. All of the strains have been isolated from humans and all but one came from the respiratory tract of elderly people. The clinical significance of these strains, ascertained for seven patients, seems to suggest an unusually high virulence. The characteristics of all the strains reported in the literature, genotypically identical to the ones described here, seem to confirm our data, without reports of isolations from animals or the environment or, among humans, from AIDS patients. Therefore, an elevation of the MAC variant was proposed and characterized here, with the name Mycobacterium chimaera sp. nov.; this increases the number of species included in the M. avium complex. The type strain is FI-01069T (=CIP 107892T=DSM 44623T).