We present the initial genetic and biochemical characterization of the propionate (prp) locus at 8.5 centisomes of the Salmonella typhimurium LT2 chromosome (T. A. Hammelman et al., FEMS Microbiol. Lett. 137: 233-239, 1996). In this paper, we report the nucleotide sequences of two divergently transcribed transcriptional units. One unit is comprised of the prpR gene (1,626 bp) encoding a member of the sigma-54 family of transcriptional activators; the second unit contains an operon of four genes designated prpB (888 bp), prpC (1,170 bp), prpD (1,452 bp), and prpE (1,923 bp). The heme biosynthetic gene hemB was shown by DNA sequencing to be located immediately downstream of the prpBCDE operon; hemB is divergently transcribed from prpBCDE and is separated from prpE by a 66-bp gap. In addition, we demonstrate the involvement of PrpB, PrpC, and PrpD in propionate catabolism by complementation analysis of mutants using plasmids carrying a single prp gene under the control of the arabinose-responsive P(BAD) promoter. Expression of prpB to high levels was deleterious to the growth of a prp+ strain on minimal medium supplemented with propionate as a carbon and energy source. We also report the cloning and overexpression of prpB, prpC, prpD, and prpE in the T7 system. PrpB, PrpC, PrpD, and PrpE had molecular masses of ca. 32, ca. 44, ca. 53, and ca. 70 kDa, respectively. PrpB showed homology to carboxyphosphonoenolpyruvate phosphonomutase of Streptomyces hygroscopicus and to its homolog in the carnation Dianthus caryophyllus; PrpC was homologous to both archaeal and bacterial citrate synthases; PrpD showed homology to yeast and Bacillus subtilis proteins of unknown function; PrpE showed homology to acetyl coenzyme A synthetases. We identified a sigma-54 (RpoN)-dependent promoter with a consensus RpoN binding site upstream of the initiating methionine codon of prpB, the promoter-proximal gene of the prp operon. Consistent with this finding, an rpoN prp+ mutant failed to use propionate as carbon and energy source. Finally, we report the location of MudI1734 elements inserted in prpC or prpD and of a Tn10delta16delta17 element in prpB and provide genetic evidence supporting the conclusion that the prpBCDE genes constitute an operon.