Our previous research has demonstrated that with the more aciduric oral bacteria, an acid shock to sub-lethal pH values results in the induction of an acid tolerance response that protects the cells at extremely low pH (pH 3.0-4.0) that kills unadapted control cells maintained at pH 7.5 (Oral Microbiol Immunol 1997: 12: 266-273). In this study, we were interested in comparing the protein profiles of acid-shocked and control cells of nine organisms from three acidogenic genera that could be categorized as strong, weak and non-acid responders in an attempt to identify proteins that could be classified as acid-regulated proteins and which may be important in the process of survival at very low pH. For this, log-phase cultures were rapidly acidified from pH 7.5 to 5.5 in the presence of [14C]-amino acids for varying periods up to 2 h, the period previously shown to be required for maximum induction of the acid response. The cells were extracted for total protein and subjected to one-dimensional sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide chromatography with comparable control and acid-shocked protein profiles compared by scanning and computer analysis. Of particular interest were the proteins in the acid-shocked cells that showed enhanced labeling (i.e., synthesis) over the control cells, since these were considered acid-regulated proteins of importance in pH homeostasis. Streptococcus mutans LT11 generated the most rapid and complex pattern: a total of 36 acid-regulated proteins showing enhanced synthesis, with 25 appearing within the first 30 min of acid shock. The enhanced synthesis was transient with all proteins, with the exception of two with molecular weights of 50/49 and 33/32 kDa. Within the acid-regulated proteins were proteins having molecular weights comparable to the heat shock proteins and the various subunits of the membrane H+/ATPase. By comparison, the strong responder, Lactobacillus casei 151, showed the enhanced formation of only nine proteins within the first 30 min of the acid shock, with a total of 11 acid-regulated proteins formed during the 2-h adaptation period with enhanced synthesis transient for seven of these proteins. Streptococcus salivarius AT2 and Streptococcus gordonii TH12 had the formation of 6 and 8 proteins enhanced, while the weakly responding organisms, Streptococcus sanguis ATCC 10556 and Streptococcus oralis ATCC 10557, exhibited 8 and 6 such proteins, respectively. Even non-responding strains unable to survive at very low pH, such as Streptococcus sobrinus CH125/43, Streptococcus mitis ATCC 12261 and Actinomyces naeslundii 301-13 showed the initial formation of 3-9 acid-regulated proteins, but protein synthesis was not sustained over the entire adaptation period. Clearly, the survival of oral bacteria at very low pH is related, not to the total number of the acid-regulated proteins induced per se but to the formation of key proteins that function to augment normal pH homeostasis.