Enterovirus (EV) 68 was originally isolated in California in 1962 from four children with respiratory illness. Since that time, reports of EV68 isolation have been very uncommon. Between 1989 and 2003, 12 additional EV68 clinical isolates were identified and characterized, all of which were obtained from respiratory specimens of patients with respiratory tract illnesses. No EV68 isolates from enteric specimens have been identified from these same laboratories. These recent isolates, as well as the original California strains and human rhinovirus (HRV) 87 (recently shown to be an isolate of EV68 and distinct from the other human rhinoviruses), were compared by partial nucleotide sequencing in three genomic regions (partial sequencing of the 5'-non-translated region and 3D polymerase gene, and complete sequencing of the VP1 capsid gene). The EV68 isolates, including HRV87, were monophyletic in all three regions of the genome. EV68 isolates and HRV87 grew poorly at 37 degrees C relative to growth at 33 degrees C and their titres were reduced by incubation at pH 3.0, whereas the control enterovirus, echovirus 11, grew equally well at 33 and 37 degrees C and its titre was not affected by treatment at pH 3.0. Acid lability and a lower optimum growth temperature are characteristic features of the human rhinoviruses. It is concluded that EV68 is primarily an agent of respiratory disease and that it shares important biological and molecular properties with both the enteroviruses and the rhinoviruses.