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To evaluate the epidemiology of Candida albicans infection in HIV-infected patients with oral lesions using molecular techniques.Thirty-nine isolates from HIV-positive patients with oral candidiasis were examined using two DNA probes (a Histoplasma capsulatum ribosomal DNA probe that cross-hybridizes with C. albicans and a C. albicans strain-specific probe derived from repetitive sequence DNA). C. albicans obtained from the oral cavity of patients receiving cytotoxic chemotherapy was used as controls.Using the H. capsulatum ribosomal DNA probe, isolates were shown to members of many distinct classes of C. albicans. Forty-nine per cent (19 out of 39) of isolates were members of the same class; however, 46% (6 out of 13) of control C. albicans isolates were also members of this class. Further analysis of the class-restricted isolates from the HIV-infected patients using the C. albicans strain-specific probe showed that these could be further separated into distinct strains.These data indicate that strains of C. albicans that cause oral candidiasis in HIV-positive individuals are not clonally restricted and are similar to those colonizing the oral cavity of other severely immunocompromised hosts. Most patients appear to be infected with unique strains of C. albicans.