It has been suggested that the O-side chains of the lipopolysaccharide (LPS) of serotype 0:3 strains of Yersinia enterocolitica vary quantitatively and qualitatively depending on whether they are cultured at 37 degrees C or 25 degrees C. It is uncertain whether this affects the expression of the serotype-specific antigens that are probably carried on the LPS. We studied this question with a serotype 0:3-specific monoclonal antibody, 2C1. This monoclonal antibody immunoprecipitated a 39K major protein from detergent-solubilized 125I-labeled Yersinia preparation. However, results of Western blot experiments demonstrated that the antigens reactive with 2C1 were not actually the 39K protein but the O-side chains of the LPS. Significantly, reactivity could be detected whether the bacteria were cultured at room temperature or at 37 degrees C. However, absorption experiments confirmed that there were less accessible antigenic determinants on the 37 degrees C-LPS. The LPS preparations were analyzed by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) and silver staining. These SDS-PAGE profiles showed that less O-side chains were present in the 37 degrees C-LPS. Hence, the most likely explanation for our observation is that the 37 degrees C incubation condition induced a partial smooth to rough transition of the Yersinia LPS with a decrease in the amount of 2C1-reactive antigen.