Six plasmid-borne avirulence (avr) genes were previously cloned from strain XcmH of the cotton pathogen, Xanthomonas campestris pv. malvacearum. We have now localized all six avr genes on the cloned fragments by subcloning and Tn5-gusA insertional mutagenesis. None of these avr genes appeared to exhibit exclusively gene-for-gene patterns of interactions with cotton R genes, and avrB4 was demonstrated to confer avr gene-for-R genes (plural) avirulence to X. c. pv. malvacearum on congenic cotton lines carrying either of two different resistance loci, B1 or B4. Furthermore, the B1 locus appeared to confer R gene-for-avr genes resistance to cotton against isogenic X. c. pv. malvacearum strains carrying any one of three avr genes: avrB4, avrb6, or avrB102. Restriction enzyme, Southern blot hybridization, and DNA sequence analyses showed that the XcmH avr genes are all highly similar to each other, to avrBs3 and avrBsP from the pepper pathogen X. c. pv. vesicatoria, and to the host-specific virulence gene pthA from the citrus pathogen X. citri. The XcmH avr genes differed primarily in the multiplicity of a tandemly repeated 102-base pair motif within the central portions of the genes, repeated from 14 to 23 times in members of this gene family. The complete nucleotide sequence of avrb6 revealed that it is 97% identical in DNA sequence to avrB4, avrBs3, avrBsP, and pthA and that 62-bp inverted terminal repeats mark the boundaries of homology between avrb6 and all members of this Xanthomonas virulence/avirulence gene family sequenced to date. The terminal 38 bp of both inverted repeats are highly similar to the 38-bp consensus terminal sequence of the Tn3 family of transposons. Up to 11 members of the avr gene family appear to be present in North American strains of X. c. pv. malvacearum, including XcmH. The high level of homology observed among these avr genes and their presence in multiple copies may explain the gene-for-genes interactions and also the observed high frequencies (10(-3) to 10(-4) per locus) of X. c. pv. malvacearum race change mutations. Five spontaneous race change mutants of XcmH suffered avr locus deletions, strongly indicating intergenic recombination as the primary mechanism for generating new races in X. c. pv. malvacearum.