The nucleotide sequence of the Bacillus anthracis lethal factor (LF) gene (lef) has been determined. LF is part of the tripartite protein exotoxin of B. anthracis along with protective antigen (PA) and edema factor (EF). The apparent ATG start codon, which is located immediately upstream from codons which specify the first 16 amino acids (aa) of the mature secreted LF, is preceded by an AAAGGAG sequence, which is its probable ribosome-binding site. This ATG codon begins a continuous 2427-bp open reading frame which encodes the 809-aa LF-precursor protein with an Mr of 93,798. The mature secreted protein (776 aa; Mr 90,237) was preceded by a 33-aa signal peptide which has characteristics in common with leader peptides for other secreted proteins of the Bacillus species. The codon usage of the LF gene reflects its high (70%) A + T content. The N-terminus of LF (first 300 aa) shared extensive homology with the N-terminus of the anthrax EF protein. Since LF and EF each bind PA at the same site, these homologous regions probably represent their common PA-binding domains.