The rag locus of Porphyromonas gingivalis W50 encodes RagA, a predicted tonB-dependent receptor protein, and RagB, a lipoprotein that constitutes an immunodominant outer membrane antigen. The low G+C content of the locus, an association with mobility elements, and an apparent restricted distribution in the species suggested that the locus had arisen by horizontal gene transfer. In the present study, we have demonstrated that there are four divergent alleles of the rag locus. The original rag allele found in W50 was renamed rag-1, while three novel alleles, rag-2 to rag-4, were found in isolates lacking rag-1. The three novel alleles encoded variants of RagA with 63 to 71% amino acid identity to RagA1 and each other and variants of RagB with 43 to 56% amino acid identity. The RagA/B proteins have homology to numerous Bacteroides proteins, including SusC/D, implicated in polysaccharide uptake. Monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies raised against RagB1 of P. gingivalis W50 did not cross-react with proteins from isolates carrying different alleles. In a laboratory collection of 168 isolates, 26% carried rag-1, 36% carried rag-2, 25% carried rag-3, and 14% carried rag-4 (including the type strain, ATCC 33277). Restriction profiles of the locus in different isolates demonstrated polymorphism within each allele, some of which is accounted for by the presence or absence of insertion sequence elements. By reference to a previously published study on virulence in a mouse model (M. L. Laine and A. J. van Winkelhoff, Oral Microbiol. Immunol. 13:322-325, 1998), isolates that caused serious disease in mice were significantly more likely to carry rag-1 than other rag alleles.