Broad host-range plasmid RK2 is a member of the Escherichia coli incompatibility group P. Unlike most other groups of plasmids, members of the P group are capable of efficient transfer between and maintenance in most gram-negative bacterial species. It is of interest whether this broad host-range results from differences between the mechanism of replication of broad and narrow host-range plasmids. The regions of RK2 required for replication in E. coli have previously been defined as an origin of vegetative replication, oriVRK2 , and a gene, trfA , specifying a positively required trans-acting product. In this study Tn1723 transposon insertions have been used to map the trfA gene and determine its functional gene product. The Tn1723 insertions define the outer limits of the gene, a promoter region, a "leader" region not essential for trfA activity and a coding region. Three polypeptides of 13 X 10(3), 43 X 10(3) and 32 X 10(3) molecular weight are produced from this region and the production of a 32 X 10(3) Mr polypeptide is shown to be correlated with trfA activity in E. coli. Analysis of polypeptides produced from transposon insertion derivatives in which all but 35 base-pairs of inserted DNA is deleted, along with the effect of these insertions on trfA activity, suggest that the 43 X 10(3) and 32 X 10(3) Mr polypeptide coding sequences overlap in the same reading frame and that all three polypeptides (13 X 10(3), 32 X 10(3) and 43 X 10(3) Mr) may be translated from the same initial transcript.