Proteins that are actively secreted by Mycobacterium tuberculosis generate immune responses in the infected host. This has prompted the characterization of protein components of mycobacterial culture filtrates to develop subunit vaccines and immunodiagnostic reagents. Fractionation of filtrates of M. tuberculosis cultures has yielded an abundant protein called MPT63, which has an apparent molecular mass of 18 kDa. We report the molecular cloning and nucleotide sequence of the mpt63 gene, purification of recombinant MPT63 antigen from Escherichia coli cells, and serological characterization of MPT63. Nucleotide sequence analysis of mpt63 identified an open reading frame encoding a protein of 159 amino acids (aa) consisting of a 29-aa secretion signal peptide and a 130-aa mature MPT63 protein. Recombinant MPT63 protein, purified from E. coli cells, and native MPT63, purified from M. tuberculosis culture filtrates, were indistinguishable in serological assays. Thus, the recombinant protein constitutes a valuable reagent for immunological studies. MPT63 evoked humoral immune responses in guinea pigs infected with virulent M. tuberculosis by the aerosol route. The mpt63 gene is found only in species of the M. tuberculosis complex, as shown by DNA hybridization experiments. Moreover, polyclonal antibody against MPT63 does not cross-react with proteins of a common environmental mycobacterial species, Mycobacterium avium. The absence of cross-reactive epitopes makes MPT63 an attractive candidate as an M. tuberculosis complex-specific diagnostic reagent. In particular, evaluation of MPT63 as an M. tuberculosis complex-specific reagent for diagnostic skin testing is under way.