Chlamydia trachomatis is an obligate prokaryotic intracellular pathogen of humans that infects mucosal epithelial cells. Exposed domains of its major outer membrane protein (MOMP) are both serotyping and protective antigenic determinants. To identify these domains, we have cloned and epitope-mapped the genes of serovars A, C (C serogroup) and L2, B (B serogroup) with a panel of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). Predominantly conserved regions of the genes of both serogroups are interspersed with four short variable domains (I-IV). Recombinant phage clones expressing specific MOMP antigenic determinants revealed that protective serotype-specific recognized epitopes in variable domains I and II. Protective subspecies and serogroup-specific mAbs recognized overlapping determinants in variable domain IV near the C terminus. A nonprotective species-specific mAb mapped to an invariant peptide of nine residues contained within variable domain IV. In the intact chlamydial organism of serovar B, variable domains II and IV were susceptible to proteolytic digestion, whereas both N and C termini were protected. These results suggest an arrangement of MOMP in the outer membrane in which three of the four variable domains are exposed to the outside and in which both N and C termini are presumably oriented toward the periplasmic space. This molecular analysis of MOMP antigenic determinants and their surface topology on intact chlamydiae will be useful toward the development of a recombinant subunit or synthetic chlamydial vaccine.