In Klebsiella pneumoniae, the mucoid phenotype, which is a virulence factor, is distinct from capsule production. It is positively controlled by a plasmid gene, designated rmpA. When introduced into certain Escherichia coli strains, rmpA induces expression of a mucoid phenotype, which results from overproduction of colanic acid at 30 degrees C but not at 37 degrees C. In E. coli, production of colanic acid is regulated by three genes: rcsA and rcsB which act as positive regulators, and rcsC which is a negative effector. In this work we present evidence that the rmpA gene complemented an rcsA, Ion double mutant of E. coli, but not an rcsA, Ion+ isolate. This leads to the suggestion that rmpA expressed an rcsA-like activity and like rcsA, was negatively controlled at post-transcriptional level by the Lon protease. The nucleotide sequence of rmpA is reported. No homology could be found between the 27 kiloDalton RcsA protein and the deduced amino acid sequence of the 15.5 kiloDalton RmpA protein. Another gene, rmpB, which was required in E. coli recA isolates for full expression of rmpA at 30 degrees C, has been identified on the K. pneumoniae virulence plasmid and shown to encode a 37 kiloDalton protein. Although rmpB was closely linked to rmpA, it was not present on the same transcriptional unit. These results suggested that induction of colanic acid synthesis by the K. pneumoniae virulence gene rmpA, was, at least in E. coli, under the control of the RecA network via rmpB, which may act as a positive regulator of rmpA. We conclude that these plasmid genes may function in K. pneumoniae as regulatory genes controlling the mucoid phenotype, which is itself encoded by the chromosome.