Lantibiotics form a group of modified peptides with unique structures, containing post-translationally modified amino acids such as dehydrated and lanthionine residues. In the gram-positive bacteria that secrete these lantibiotics, the gene clusters flanking the structural genes for various linear (type A) lantibiotics have recently been characterized. The best studied representatives are those of nisin (nis), subtilin (spa), epidermin (epi), Pep5 (pep), cytolysin (cyl), lactocin S (las) and lacticin 481 (lct). Comparison of the lantibiotic gene clusters shows that they contain conserved genes that probably encode similar functions. The nis, spa, epi and pep clusters contain lanB and lanC genes that are presumed to code for two types of enzymes that have been implicated in the modification reactions characteristic of all lantibiotics, i.e. dehydration and thio-ether ring formation. The cyl, las and lct gene clusters have no homologue of the lanB gene, but they do contain a much larger lanM gene that is the lanC gene homologue. Most lantibiotic gene clusters contain a lanP gene encoding a serine protease that is presumably involved in the proteolytic processing of the prelantibiotics. All clusters contain a lanT gene encoding an ABC transporter likely to be involved in the export of (precursors of) the lantibiotics. The lanE, lanF and lanG genes in the nis, spa and epi clusters encode another transport system that is possibly involved in self-protection. In the nisin and subtilin gene clusters two tandem genes, lanR and lanK, have been located that code for a two-component regulatory system. Finally, non-homologous genes are found in some lantibiotic gene clusters. The nisI and spaI genes encode lipoproteins that are involved in immunity, the pepI gene encodes a membrane-located immunity protein, and epiD encodes an enzyme involved in a post-translational modification found only in the C-terminus of epidermin. Several genes of unknown function are also found in the las gene cluster. A database has been assembled for all putative gene products of type A lantibiotic gene clusters. Database searches, multiple sequence alignment and secondary structure prediction have been used to identify conserved sequence segments in the LanB, LanC, LanE, LanF, LanG, LanK, LanM, LanP, LanR and LanT gene products that may be essential for structure and function. This database allows for a rapid screening of newly determined sequences in lantibiotic gene clusters.