The nucleotide sequence of the Bacillus subtilis clpP gene was determined. The predicted protein shows very high similarity to members of the ClpP family of proteolytic subunits (68% amino acid sequence identity with that of Escherichia coli). We show that ClpP plays an essential role in stationary phase adaptive responses. Indeed, a delta clpP mutant was constructed and shown to display a pleiotropic phenotype, including a deficiency in both sporulation initiation and competence for DNA uptake. The delta clpP mutant has a highly filamentous morphology and appears to be non-motile, as judged by swarm plate assays. Expression of clpP is strongly induced under heat shock conditions, and ClpP is shown to be essential for growth of B. subtilis at high temperature. The role of ClpP in the sporulation and competence regulatory pathways was investigated. ClpP is required for expression of the spollA and spollG operons, encoding the sigmaF and sigmaE sporulation-specific sigma factors. ClpP is also necessary for the expression of the comK gene, encoding a positive transcriptional regulator of competence genes. ComK-dependent transcription of sacB, encoding the exocellular degradative enzyme levansucrase, was found to be abolished in the delta clpP mutant. MecA has been characterized previously as a negative regulator of comK expression, whose overproduction inhibits both sporulation and competence development. Expression of a mecA'-'lacZ translational fusion is shown to be increased in the delta clpP mutant. We suggest that ClpP is involved in controlling MecA levels in the cell through proteolysis. Increased levels of MecA in the absence of ClpP are at least partly responsible for the observed pleiotropic phenotype of the delta clpP mutant.