Recent results with primate plasmodia and rodent models of infection have focused attention on the C-terminal region of the merozoite surface protein-1 (MSP-1) as one of the leading candidates for vaccination against the erythrocytic stages of malaria. However, sequence heterogeneity of this region may compromise its use as a vaccine candidate. While the C-terminal region of MSP-1 from the two prototypic alleles of P. falciparum has been shown to be relatively conserved in laboratory-maintained strains, little data exist on sequence heterogeneity of this region in field isolates from diverse geographic areas. To address this question, DNA encoding the C-terminal, Cys-rich region of P. falciparum MSP-1 from field samples was analyzed by a polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-direct sequencing method. Sequence data were consistent with those obtained from laboratory-maintained strains. In 15 isolates from Africa, Asia and Latin America, only a few nucleotide changes were found leading to amino-acid alterations at four positions out of 102 residues. All the variations corresponded to the predicted amino-acid sequence of the other prototype, suggesting that these changes were possibly due to allelic recombinations. The four changes were E-->Q at position 1644 and TSR-->KNG, or KNG-->TSR at positions 1691, 1700 and 1701. Thus, only three patterns of the C-terminal, Cys-rich region of MSP-1, E-TSR, Q-KNG and Q-TSR, were detected. All the Cys residues were conserved. These results support the potential utility of the C-terminal region of MSP-1 as a vaccine candidate.