The ltp gene, located within the lysogeny module of temperate Streptococcus thermophilus phage TP-J34, has been shown to be expressed in lysogenic strain S. thermophilus J34. It codes for a lipoprotein, as demonstrated by inhibition of cleavage of the signal sequence by globomycin. Exposure of Ltp on the surface of Lactococcus lactis protoplasts bearing a plasmid-encoded copy of ltp has been demonstrated by immunogold labeling and electron microscopy. Expression of ltp in prophage- and plasmid-cured S. thermophilus J34-6f interfered with TP-J34 infection. While plating efficiency was reduced by a factor of about 40 and lysis of strain J34-6f in liquid medium was delayed considerably, phage adsorption was not affected at all. Intracellular accumulation of phage DNA was shown to be inhibited by Ltp. This indicates interference of Ltp with infection at the stage of triggering DNA release and injection into the cell, indicating a role of Ltp in superinfection exclusion. Expression of ltp in L. lactis Bu2-60 showed that the same superinfection exclusion mechanism was strongly effective against phage P008, a member of the lactococcal 936 phage species: no plaque-formation was detectable with even 10(9) phage per ml applied, and lysis in liquid medium did not occur. In Lactococcus also, Ltp apparently inhibited phage DNA release and/or injection. Ltp appears to be a member of a family of small, secreted proteins with a 42 amino acids repeat structure encoded by genes of Gram-positive bacteria. Some of these homologous genes are part of the genomes of prophages.