The gene responsible for the optochin-sensitive (OptS) phenotype of Streptococcus pneumoniae has been characterized. Sequence comparisons indicated that the genes involved encoded the subunits of the F0 complex of an H(+)-ATPase. Sequence analysis and transformation experiments showed that the atpC gene is responsible for the optochin-sensitive resistant (OptS/OptR) phenotype. Our results also show that natural as well as laboratory OptR isolates have arisen by point mutations that produce different amino acid changes at positions 48, 49 or 50 of the ATPase c subunit. The nucleotide sequence of the F0 complex of the Streptococcus oralis ATPase has also been determined. In addition, comparison of the sequence of the atpCAB genes of S. pneumoniae R6 (OptS) and M222 (an OptR strain produced by interspecies recombination between pneumococcus and S. oralis), and S. oralis revealed that, in M222, an interchange of atpC and atpA had occurred. We also demonstrate that optochin specifically inhibited the membrane-bound ATPase activity of the S. pneumoniae wild-type (OptS) strains, and found a 100-fold difference between OptS and OptR strains, both in growth inhibition and in membrane ATPase resistance.