The authors report a nonradioactive adaptation of DNA hybridization technology for the direct detection of Legionella organisms in situ in routinely processed histologic specimens. The probe used consisted of synthetic oligodeoxynucleotides, complementary to the ribosomal RNA of all clinically relevant Legionella species, labeled with biotinylated dUTP at their 3' ends. By in situ DNA hybridization and detection with an avidin-alkaline phosphatase complex. Legionella was visualized by light microscopy within the alveoli of lung specimens in 9 of 13 direct fluorescent antibody- or culture-positive cases of Legionnaires' disease. No cross-hybridization was observed in lung specimens infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, or other pathogens. The authors' results illustrate a novel adaptation of in situ DNA hybridization techniques, usually used for viruses, to the detection of a bacterial organism. The method enables direct visualization of bacterial nucleic acid in infected tissues and may facilitate early diagnosis and treatment of legionellosis.