The epidemiology of chronic colonization of airways with Pseudomonas aeruginosa was monitored in 44 patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) by DraI/SpeI macrorestriction analyses of 489 isolates. Sequential P. aeruginosa isolates (144) that had been collected from 32 CF patients over < or = 2.5 years were investigated, and 12 patients were followed for 8 years after onset of colonization. Forty-eight different genotypes were uncovered from 481 typeable isolates. Ten genotypes were found in > 1 unrelated CF patient. The 6 most frequent clones were identified in 58% of isolates. Ten of the 12 patients monitored for 8 years were harboring their initially acquired P. aeruginosa clone at all times, with subtle shifts of fragment patterns indicating subclonal variation. During colonization, the bacteria gradually lost pyocin and phage typing responses, supporting the view that genotypically discordant P. aeruginosa strains develop a common phenotype.