The effect of physiological conditions on autolysis and autolytic activity in various strains of Staphylococcus aureus was determined. The rate of whole cell autolysis of S. aureus was growth phase dependent and a maximum rate was observed in early stationary phase cultures. However, the autolysins extracted by the freeze-thaw method (cell-wall bound autolytic activity) did not show any significant increase in activity. The addition of NaCl to the growth medium enhanced the rate of autolysis with the highest rate being displayed by cultures grown in 1.5 M NaCl. However, lower autolytic activity was found in the freeze-thaw extracts of cultures grown at higher concentrations of NaCl. The rate of autolysis of cultures grown at 30 degrees C was higher than cultures grown at 37 or 43 degrees C. Thus, the rate of autolysis seems to be independent of the bacterial growth rate. Cultures grown in slightly acidic conditions showed a faster rate of autolysis compared to cultures grown under alkaline conditions. SDS-polyacrylamide gel containing 0.2% crude cell-wall of S. aureus did not show any obvious correlation with the appearance of any particular lytic band in the zymogram to autolytic activity or rate of autolysis of cultures grown under various environmental conditions. A nonhemolytic phenotype, mutations in the accessory gene regulator, and lysogeny (phages phi 11, phi 12, phi 13) had no obvious effect either on the rate of autolysis or on the pattern of lytic bands in the zymograms.