Autolysins are enzymes that have several important biological functions and also seem to be responsible for the irreversible effects induced by the beta-lactam antibiotics. The pneumococcal autolysin gene (lyt) has been subcloned from the plasmid pGL30 [García et al., Mol. Gen. Genet. 201 (1985) 225-230] and we have found that the E form of the autolysin is synthesized in Escherichia coli using its own promoter. The high amount of autolysin obtained in the heterologous system when the lyt gene is present in different orientations in the recombinant plasmids studied supports the idea that the autolysin promoter could be a strong one. The nucleotide sequence of the HindIII fragment of pGL80 (1213 bp) containing the autolysin structural gene has been determined. A unique open reading frame (ORF) has been found, a consensus ribosome-binding site and -10 and -35 promoter-like sequences as well as A + T-rich regions farther upstream were also identified. The lyt ORF encodes a protein of 318 amino acid residues having a calculated Mr of 36,532, which agrees with previous size estimates based on electrophoretic migration [Höltje and Tomasz, J. Biol. Chem. 251 (1976) 4199-4207; Briese and Hakenbeck, Eur. J. Biochem. 146 (1985) 417-427]. Our results also demonstrate that the lyt-4 marker represents the first example of a mutation in a structural gene of a bacterial autolysin. The polarity profile of the pneumococcal autolysin supports previous suggestions about the localization of this enzyme in the normal cell.