Twenty eight C. psittaci abortion strains had been previously classified in to 4 immunologically distinct groups on the basis of cross-protection experiments in a mouse model. To identify the molecular basis of their immunological divergence 4 representative strains were investigated by cellular, molecular and immunological techniques. An identical pattern was obtained by Alul digestion of the amplified major outer membrane protein gene (MOMP) by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) of the 4 strains. However, inclusion morphology and polypeptide profiles clearly distinguished one strain, named LLG, and its homologous strain POS from the other prototypes by the presence of a unique protein at 26.5 kDa and the absence of a polypeptide at 23 kDa. Six out of 10 monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) raised against abortion strains failed to react with inclusions of the 2 strains. All 6 mAbs reacted with the chlamydial outer membrane complex (COMC). Two of these mAbs, one against the MOMP and one against an antigen at 90 kDa, did not react with immunoblots of LLG and POS. The data provide direct demonstration of the existence of strain variation in the field and classify strains LLG and POS as a distinct C. psittaci serotype 1-subtype. The antigenic diversity among abortion strains should be taken into consideration when designing a subunit vaccine.