The morphological and physical characteristics of the capsule of Vibrio cholerae O139 were examined. An electron microscopic study using the freeze-substitution technique showed that all of the V. cholerae strains of the O139 serogroup examined have a very thin fibrous layer on the outside of the outer membrane. In contrast, the mutants of strain O139, strain MO10T4 (which lacks capsule synthesis), and strain Bengal-2R1 (which fails to synthesize both the capsule and the O-antigen of lipopolysaccharide) were all found to have lost the surface layer. In addition, the capsule layer could also not be observed on the surface of V. cholerae strain O1. To determine the biological characteristics of the capsule of strains of the O139 serogroup, we investigated the serum killing activity and bacterial phagocytosis by polymorphonuclear leukocytes. The O139 strains were more resistant to the serum killing activity than were the V. cholerae O1 strain and the O139 mutant strains, thus suggesting that the existence of the capsule gave a serum-resistant character to the O139 strains. The surface character of the O139 strains had the same hydrophobic character as did that of the O139 mutant strains and the O1 strain. In addition, all the V. cholerae O1 and O139 strains examined, including the mutant strains, were effectively ingested by the human polymorphonuclear leukocytes. The number of ingested bacteria was not significantly different among the strains, and the ingestion of the acapsular O139 mutants thus showed that the capsule does not play an antiphagocytic role. These data suggest that the capsule of V. cholerae O139 has a physiological function different from that of the ordinal hydrophilic capsule that is found in invasive bacteria such as Klebsiella pneumoniae.