Mycobacterium tuberculosis isolates were studied by comparing chromosomal DNA fingerprint patterns produced by digestion of chromosomal DNA with BamHI, followed by agarose electrophoresis and hybridization with radiolabeled probes of insertion sequence IS6110. DNA fingerprints of 14 isolates from separate members of five households or closely associated individuals were compared. Marked differences were observed when unrelated isolates were compared. There were no or minimal differences in the restriction fragment patterns generated from isolates of any one household or associated group. Among related isolates, the only noticeable difference was an additional fragment of IS6110 in the fingerprint pattern of one isolate. Insertional activity was also suggested when restriction fragment patterns of H37Rv DNA isolated in 1987 and 1990 were compared. In a similar manner, M. tuberculosis reference strain Erdman was compared to a clinical isolate from an individual working with that strain. These isolates had identical DNA fingerprints which were distinct from all other isolates, verifying laboratory-acquired infection. Chromosomal DNA fingerprint patterns produced with IS6110 are excellent stain-specific markers for the epidemiologic study of tuberculosis.