Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) of SmaI macrorestriction fragments of chromosomal DNA was used to confirm the persistence of methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus isolates in the sputum of 25 cystic fibrosis patients in five French hospitals. Three-to-eight consecutive isolates, with the same esterase electrophoretic type isolated from each patient over a period of 12-28 months, were analysed. Consecutive isolates with indistinguishable PFGE profiles were found in 12 patients (48%) and consecutive isolates with similar PFGE profiles showing minor differences of one-to-four fragments (similarity coefficient >/=84%) were found in 11 patients. Consecutive isolates with different PFGE profiles were obtained from only two patients, but the profiles found in each patient were more closely related to each other than to other profiles. The results were in agreement with esterase electrophoretic typing for 23 patients, and we considered that those patients were infected with a single persistent strain. For any given patient, variations in antibiotypes and phage types of consecutive isolates were not associated with major genotypic variations. PFGE is useful in confirming the persistence of S. aureus strains in cystic fibrosis patients over long periods.