The ability of Listeria monocytogenes to move within the cytosol of infected cells and their ability to infect adjacent cells is important in the development of infection foci leading to systemic disease. Interaction with the host cell microfilament system, particularly actin, appears to be the basis for propelling the bacteria through the host cell cytoplasm to generate the membraneous protrusions whereby cell-to-cell spread occurs. The actA locus of L.monocytogenes encodes a 90 kDa polypeptide that is a key component of bacterium-host cell microfilament interactions. Cloning of the actA gene allowed the identification of its gene product and permitted construction of an isogenic mutant strain defective in the production of the ActA polypeptide. Sequencing of the region encoding the actA gene revealed that it was located region encoding the actA gene revealed that it was located between the metalloprotease (mpl) and phosphatidylcholine-specific phospholipase C (plcB) genes. Within the cytoplasm of the infected cells, the mutant strain grew as microcolonies, was unable to accumulate actin following escape from the phagocytic compartment and was incapable of infecting adjacent cells. It was also dramatically less virulent, demonstrating that the capacity to move intracellularly and spread intercellularly is a key determinant of L.monocytogenes virulence. Like all other virulence factors described for this microorganism, expression of the ActA polypeptide is controlled by the PrfA regulator protein. The primary sequence of this protein appeared to be unique with no extended homology to known protein sequences. However, an internal repeat sequence showed strong regional homology to a sequence from within the hinge region of the cytoskeletal protein vinculin.