Summary We investigated whether the recurrence of tuberculosis in HIV-infected patients is due to an exogenous reinfection or relapses after antituberculosis chemotherapy. We reviewed clinical information on 32 patients at a Rio de Janeiro hospital from whom multiple Mycobacterium tuberculosis isolates were taken. All isolates were analysed by DRE-PCR fingerprinting technique, and those with identical DRE-PCR patterns were analysed by the RFLP method. Twenty patients had M. tuberculosis simultaneously isolated from different organs. These patients and nine others with sequential positive cultures after 2 months of therapy showed stable DRE-PCR and RFLP patterns. One patient's isolate became resistant to isoniazid, but the molecular pattern remained unchanged despite the development of drug resistance. In three patients, the DRE-PCR patterns of the isolates changed dramatically. Clinical and microbiological evidence was consistent with active tuberculosis caused by a new strain of M. tuberculosis. The exogenous reinfection of the three patients was not due to an outbreak, but the isolates from each patient showed unique patterns.