A Rickettsia rickettsii outer surface membrane protein (rOmp B), of an apparent molecular mass of 120 kilodaltons, is a major surface antigen of the Rickettsiae that displays genus, species, and sub-species specific antigenic determinants. The 5' portion of this gene was found to be unstable in plasmids, but was stably cloned in a lambda vector. The nucleotide sequence of the 5' terminus has been determined, thus completing the DNA sequence of the entire gene. Genetic analysis revealed an unusually large open reading frame with the capacity to encode a product much larger than the mature protein. A 32 kilodalton peptide from purified rickettsiae was isolated and the amino terminus was sequenced, which revealed that the peptide is encoded by the 3' portion of this large open reading frame. This suggests a role for post-translational processing of rOmp B from a large precursor molecule.