Classification of Acanthamoeba at the subgenus level has been problematic, but increasing reports of Acanthamoeba as an opportunistic human pathogen have generated an interest in finding a more consistent basis for classification. Thus, we are developing a classification scheme based on RNA gene sequences. This first report is based on analysis of complete sequences of nuclear small ribosomal subunit RNA genes (Rns) from 18 strains. Sequence variation was localized in 12 highly variable regions. Four distinct sequence types were identified based on parsimony and distance analyses. Three were obtained from single strains: Type T1 from Acanthamoeba castellanii V006, T2 from Acanthamoeba palestinensis Reich, and T3 from Acanthamoeba griffini S-7. T4, the fourth sequence type, included 15 isolates classified as A. castellanii, Acanthamoeba polyphaga, Acanthamoeba rhysodes or Acanthamoeba sp., and included all 10 Acanthamoeba keratitis isolates. Interstrain sequence differences within T4 were 0%-4.3%, whereas differences among sequence types were 6%-12%. Branching orders obtained by parsimony and distance analyses were inconsistent with the current classification of T4 strains and provided further evidence of a need to reevaluate criteria for classification in this genus. Based on this report and others in preparation, we propose that Rns sequence types provide the consistent quantititive basis for classification that is needed.