PspA is a surface exposed virulence factor of S. pneumoniae that can elicit protective immunity to pneumococcal sepsis in mice. It can be released from pneumococci by washing them with a solution containing 2% choline chloride, by growing pneumococci in media containing 1.2% choline chloride, or by growing pneumococci in media in which the choline has been replaced by ethanolamine. Our results indicate that PspA is the major protection-eliciting antigen in each of these preparations. Two injections of < or = 1 microgram of native PspA purified by use of a choline-Sepharose column are highly immunogenic in BALB/c and CBA/N mice, and even in the absence of adjuvant can elicit protection against otherwise fatal sepsis with 100 times the LD50 of S. pneumoniae. Fragments comprising the N-terminal 115 and 245 amino acids of PspA were able to elicit protection but only in the presence of complete Freund's adjuvant (CFA). In the absence of CFA the 245 amino acid fragment was less than 1/100 as immunogenic as native PspA.