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To analyse the importance of sequence variations in the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) regions 1 and 2 of the nuclear rRNA operon in AIDS patients with Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP).ITS 1 and 2 genotypes were determined in 162 bronchoalveolar lavage samples from 130 patients participating in a prospective cohort study of PCP.A total of 49 different ITS genotypes were detected. ITS genotype was not associated with the clinical severity or outcome of PCP. In 37 of 162 (23%) samples infection with two or more genotypes was observed. A genotype switch was detected in six of 10 patients (60%) with recurrent episodes of PCP. However, genotype changes were also seen in 10 of 19 patients (53%) who had repeated bronchoscopies within the same episode of PCP. The same ITS type was observed twice in 13 (46%) of the 28 patients with repeat bronchoscopies during single or recurrent episodes of pneumonia, but in only 14 of 81 (17%) randomly selected pairs (P < 0.01).Although the detection of ITS genotypes is not a random event, changes in genotype can be detected in a single episode of disease, with 23% of PCP patients being infected with more than one P. carinii genotype, thus complicating the use of this locus as a genetic marker to separate new infection from the reactivation of latent infection. ITS genotypes are not associated with the clinical severity of PCP.