Sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of S-layer proteins extracted from Campylobacter fetus strains by using acid glycine buffer showed that the predominant S-layer proteins of different strains had subunit molecular weights in the range of 90,000 to 140,000. Electron microscopy revealed oblique S-layer lattices with a spacing of approximately 5.6 nm (gamma = 75 degrees) on wild-type strains VC1, VC119, VC202, and VC203. Three variants of C. fetus VC119 producing a predominant S-layer subunit protein of different molecular weight (Mr) from that of the parent were also examined. Each variant produced an oblique lattice morphologically indistinguishable from that of the parent. Amino-terminal sequence analysis showed that the S-layer proteins of the VC119 parent and variants were identical up to residue 18 and that this sequence differed from but was related to the first 16 N-terminal residues shared by the S-layer proteins of the three other wild-type C. fetus isolates. Western immunoblot analysis with an antiserum prepared to the VC119 protein and an antiserum prepared to C. fetus 84-40 LP (Z. Pei, R. T. Ellison, R. V. Lewis, and M. J. Blaser, J. Biol. Chem. 263:6416-6420, 1988) showed that strains of C. fetus were capable of producing S-layer proteins with at least four different antigenic specificities. Immunoelectron microscopy with antiserum to the VC119 S-layer protein showed that C. fetus cultures contained cells with immunoreactive oblique S-layer lattices as well as cells with oblique S-layer lattices which did not bind antibody. This suggests that C. fetus S-layer proteins undergo antigenic variation. Thermal denaturation experiments indicated that the antigenicity conferred by the surface-exposed C. fetus S-layer epitopes was unusually resistant to heat, and the thermal stability appeared to be due to the highly organized lattice structure of the S. layer. Protease digestion of purified VC119 S-layer protein revealed a trypsin-, chymotrypsin-, and endoproteinase Glu-C-resistant domain with an apparent Mr of 110,000, which carried the majority of the epitopes of the S-layer protein, and a small enzyme-sensitive domain. The trypsin- and chymotrypsin-resistant polypeptides shared an overlapping sequence which differed from the N-terminal sequence of the intact S-layer protein.