The human pathogenic bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes causes pharyngitis, acute rheumatic fever, glomerulonephritis and toxic-shock-like syndrome. The bacterium synthesizes several extracellular products, including the recently described streptococcal superantigen SSA, a molecule that shares considerable homology with several Staphylococcus aureus enterotoxins. While studying allelic variation at the ssa locus, six isolates expressing serotypes M4, M23, M33, M41, M43, and provisional type PT4854, were identified that had PCR products about 40-bp larger than expected, and one isolate (M15) had an amplified fragment that was more than 1-kb larger than expected. All six isolates have a 34-bp insert located 103 bp 5' of the ssa start codon. The larger product is a result of a 1110-bp insertion at the analogous location. The complementary strand of this insert has a 981-bp open reading frame that potentially encodes a 326-amino-acid polypeptide with substantial homology to the Escherichia coli IS30 transposase. Results of Southern blot analysis showed that at least twelve copies of the sequence are present in the serotype M15 S. pyogenes isolate. This element, designated IS1239, is the first simple insertion sequence described in group-A streptococci. Results of PCR screening showed that 26 of 78 (33%) S. pyogenes isolates expressing distinct M protein serotypes contained sequences with homology to IS1239, which means that the element is widely distributed in the species. © 1994.