The type-specific antigen of Mycobacterium avium serotype 2, the most ubiquitous of serotypes within the M. avium complex and a major cause of disseminated and localized infections, was isolated and purified. It is of the glycopeptidolipid (mycoside C) class with a characteristic oligosaccharide hapten. This was released as the oligosaccharide alditol by base-catalyzed reductive beta-elimination, and the structure was established by a combination of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, methylation analysis, fast atom bombardment mass spectrometry, and 13C and 1H nuclear magnetic resonance as 2,3-di-O-methyl-L-fucopyranosyl-(alpha 1----3)-L-rhamnopyranosyl-(alpha 1----2)- 6-deoxytalitol. A feature of the work was the elucidation of the absolute (enantiomeric) configuration of the sugars. This same structure, in much less detail, was previously reported as the species-specific hapten of strains of Mycobacterium paratuberculosis. Thus, the work raises the intriguing possibility that some M. avium serotypes are synonymous, at least in outer cell wall anatomy, with the agent(s) of paratuberculosis (Johne's disease), an insidious disease of vast proportions in ruminants. In addition, recognition of a specific determinant will allow a precise study of the epidemiology of M. avium infections in humans and animals.