The integration of gene cassettes into integrons is effected by site-specific recombination catalysed by an integrase, IntI, encoded by the integron. The cassette-associated recombination sites, 59-base elements, are not highly conserved and vary in length from 57 to 141 bp. They can be identified by their location and the relationship of over 20 bp at their outer ends to consensus sequences that are imperfect inverted repeats of one another. The recombination cross-over occurs close to one end of the 59-base element, within a conserved core site with the consensus sequence GTTAGGC or GTTRRRY. By introducing single-base changes at each of these positions in the aadB 59-base element, bases that are critical for site activity were identified. The recombination cross-over was also localized to a unique position between the adjacent G and T residues. Changes introduced in the conserved AAC of the inverse core site (GCCTAAC or RYYYAAC) located at the opposite end of the 59-base element also reduced site activity but to a lesser extent. Sequences of rare recombinants revealed an alternative position for strand exchange and led to the conclusion that 59-base elements comprise two simple sites, analogous to those recognized by other integrases, with each simple site made up of a pair of inversely oriented IntI binding domains separated by a spacer of 7 or 8 bp. Re-examination of the sequences of all known 59-base elements revealed that this simple site configuration was present at both the left and right ends in all 59-base elements. The identity of bases in the spacer is not required for efficient recombination and the cross-over is located at one end of the spacer, suggesting that during IntI1-mediated recombination only one strand exchange occurs.