M protein is considered a virulence determinant on the streptococcal cell wall by virtue of its ability to allow the organism to resist attack by human neutrophils. The complete DNA sequence of the M6 gene from streptococcal strain D471 has allowed, for the first time, the study of the structural characteristics of the amino acid sequence of an entire M protein molecule. Predictive secondary structural analysis revealed that the majority of this fibrillar molecule exhibits strong alpha-helical potential and that, except for the ends, nonpolar residues in the central region of the molecule exhibit the 7-residue periodicity typical for coiled-coil proteins. Differences in this heptad pattern of nonpolar residues allow this central rod region to be divided into three subdomains which correlate essentially with the repeat regions A, B, and C/D in the M6 protein sequence. Alignment of the N-terminal half of the M6 sequence with PepM5, the N-terminal half of the M5 protein, revealed that 42% of the amino acids were identical. The majority of the identities were "core" nonpolar residues of the heptad periodicity which are necessary for the maintenance of the coiled coil. Thus, conservation of structure in a sequence-variable region of these molecules may be biologically significant. Results suggest that serologically different M proteins may be built according to a basic scheme: an extended central coiled-coil rod domain (which may vary in size among strains) flanked by functional end domains.