The polymerase chain reaction was used to detect clinical samples of Mycoplasma pneumoniae. A 245-bp region of the cytoadhesin P1 gene was shown to be specifically amplified in Myc. pneumoniae, but not in other species of Mollicutes. Picogram amounts of Myc. pneumoniae DNA could be detected per ml blood serum by use of a simple and reliable protocol for sample preparation and a PCR reaction involving two rounds of amplification. Application of the PCR-based method for the detection of Myc. pneumoniae in serum samples and throat swabs from patients with atypical pneumonia showed that it could be used in clinical diagnosis.