Previously, we demonstrated successful Tn917 mutagenesis of the oral pathogen Streptococcus mutans using pTV1-OK (Km(r), repATs), a temperature conditional replicative delivery vector carrying a lactococcal pWVO1Ts backbone. In this report we describe the construction and utilization of pTV32-OK, a plasmid harboring Tn917-lac (em(r), beta-gal(+)) that was employed to isolate transcriptional fusions of the Escherichia coli lacZ reporter gene with streptococcal promoters in S. mutans strain NG8. Tn917-lac transposition occurred at a frequency of ca. 10(-6) with 20% of the resultant em(r) clones displaying varying levels of lacZ expression. Tn917-lac mutants that expressed beta-galactosidase activity under growth conditions of glucose limitation, acidic pH, 35 mM NaCl, and elevated (42 degrees C) temperature were isolated. Further characterization of one of the mutants with increased beta-gal activity under glucose limitation, strain AS42, revealed maximal activity in batch culture in stationary phase after glucose depletion. The beta-gal activity of AS42 also was found to be repressed 3-fold in medium containing 2% glucose relative to measured activity from cells suspended in the same medium containing no glucose. Further phenotypic analysis revealed that AS42 had a 30% lower growth yield than the parent strain NG8 when grown in pH 5 medium. Sequence analysis of the region harboring the transposon revealed that the lacZ fusion occurred near the 3'-end of a gene encoding a homolog of an ATP binding protein from a family of Gram-positive ABC transporters. These findings demonstrate that Tn917-lac mutagenesis can be used to identify environmentally regulated genes in S. mutans and possibly in other medically relevant streptococcal species.