Pathogenesis of Legionnaires>> disease is strictly related to the ability of the legionellae to infect phagocytic cells, yet surface markers of virulence in Legionella isolates are currently unknown. Rabbit antibodies raised against purified flagella of Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1 recognized a total of 24 of 30 laboratory-maintained isolates of L. pneumophila serogroups 1-15 and 16 of 24 other Legionella species tested by rapid immunoblot and indirect immunofluorescence assay. All isolates possessing flagella detectable with these anti-flagella antibodies, regardless of species, were capable of infecting Hartmannella vermiformis. Isolates lacking immunologic cross-reactivity were shown to lack purifiable flagella. The majority of aflagellate isolates were not motile and failed to multiply intracellularly in co-culture with Hartmannella vermiformis. Some isolates characterized as aflagellate when harvested from BCYE agar were able to multiply in amoebae, and flagella were subsequently detectable by immunologic methods. These data suggest that lack of immunologic recognition of flagella in laboratory-maintained isolates of Legionella is due to their attenuation and a corresponding loss of expression of flagella. More importantly, the presence of flagella can serve as a positive predictive marker for strain virulence and is useful in determining the virulence status of Legionella isolates.