The S antigens from different isolates of Plasmodium falciparum exhibit extensive size, charge, and serological diversity. We show here that the S-antigen genes behave as multiple alleles of a single locus. The size heterogeneity results from different numbers, lengths, and/or sequences of tandem repeat units encoded within the S-antigen genes. Two genes studied here encode antigenically different S antigens but nevertheless have closely related tandem repeat sequences. We show that antigenic differences can arise because repeats are translated in different reading frames.