The IncP alpha promiscuous plasmid (R18, R68, RK2, RP1 and RP4) comprises 60,099 bp of nucleotide sequence, encoding at least 74 genes. About 40 kb of the genome, designated the IncP core and including all essential replication and transfer functions, can be aligned with equivalent sequences in the IncP beta plasmid R751. The compiled IncP alpha sequence revealed several previously unidentified reading frames that are potential genes. IncP alpha plasmids carry genetic information very efficiently: the coding sequences of the genes are closely packed but rarely overlap, and occupy almost 86% of the genome's nucleotide sequence. All of the 74 genes should be expressed, although there is as yet experimental evidence for expression of only 60 of them. Six examples of tandem-in-frame initiation sites specifying two gene products each are known. Two overlapping gene arrangements occupy different reading frames of the same region. Intergenic regions include most of the 25 promoters; transcripts are usually polycistronic. Translation of most of the open reading frames seems to be initiated independently, each from its own ribosomal binding and initiation site, although, a few cases of coupled translation have been reported. The most frequently used initiation codon is AUG but translation for a few open reading frames begins at GUG or UUG. The most common stop-codon is UGA followed by UAA and then UAG. Regulatory circuits are complex and largely dependent on two components of the central control operon. KorA and KorB are transcriptional repressors controlling at least seven operons. KorA and KorB act synergistically in several cases by recognizing and binding to conserved nucleotide sequences. Twelve KorB binding sites were found around the IncP alpha sequence and these are conserved in R751 (IncP beta) with respect to both sequence and location. Replication of IncP alpha plasmids requires oriV and the plasmid-encoded initiator protein TrfA in combination with the host-encoded replication machinery. Conjugative plasmid transfer depends on two separate regions occupying about half of the genome. The primary segregational stability system designated Par/Mrs consists of a putative site-specific recombinase, a possible partitioning apparatus and a post-segregational lethality mechanism, all encoded in two divergent operons. Proteins related to the products of F sop and P1 par partitioning genes are separately encoded in the central control operon.