Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the primary agent of tuberculosis, must acquire iron from the host to cause infection. To do so, it releases high-affinity iron-binding siderophores called exochelins. Exochelins are thought to transfer iron to another type of high-affinity iron-binding molecule in the bacterial cell wall, mycobactins, for subsequent utilization by the bacterium. In this paper, we describe the purification of exochelins of M. tuberculosis and their characterization by mass spectrometry. Exochelins comprise a family of molecules whose most abundant species range in mass from 744 to 800 Da in the neutral Fe(3+)-loaded state. The molecules form two 14-Da-increment series, one saturated and the other unsaturated, with the increments reflecting different numbers of CH2 groups on a side chain. These series further subdivide into serine- or threonine-containing species. The virulent M. tuberculosis Erdman strain and the avirulent M. tuberculosis H37Ra strain produce a similar set of exochelins. Based on a comparison of their tandem mass spectra, exochelins share a common core structure with mycobactins. However, exochelins are smaller than mycobactins due to a shorter alkyl side chain, and the side chain of exochelins terminates in a methyl ester. These differences render exochelins more polar than the lipophilic mycobactins and hence soluble in the aqueous extracellular milieu of the bacterium in which they bind iron in the host.