The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that all conjugative R-plasmids of Clostridium perfringens are closely related to the previously characterized tetracycline resistance plasmid, pCW3. Fourteen conjugative R-plasmids derived from 11 C. perfringens strains isolated in Australia, the United States, France, Belgium, and Japan were analyzed. Eleven of the plasmids encoded tetracycline resistance while three carried both tetracycline and chloramphenicol resistance. Each of these plasmids was compared, by restriction analysis, to the reference plasmid, pCW3. Seven of the tetracycline resistance plasmids had EcoRI, XbaI, and ClaI restriction profiles that were identical to those of the corresponding pCW3 digests. The seven remaining R-plasmids were different from pCW3. Comparison of partial restriction maps of these plasmids with a complete map of pCW3 indicated that they contained at least 17 kb of DNA that also was present in pCW3. Hybridization analysis confirmed that these plasmids shared substantial homology with pCW3. The three tetracycline and chloramphenicol resistance plasmids frequently lost a 6-kb chloramphenicol resistance segment during conjugation. Cloning experiments showed that the chloramphenicol resistance determinant was expressed in Escherichia coli and that the chloramphenicol resistance gene of one of these plasmids, pIP401, was contained within a 1.5-kb region of the 6-kb deletion segment. Hybridization analysis indicated that the deletion segment of pIP401 was related to those of the other two chloramphenicol resistance plasmids. During the course of this study, conjugative R-plasmids which appear to be identical to pCW3 or closely related to pCW3 were identified from C. perfringens strains from human, animal and environmental sources in five countries. It is concluded that C. perfringens strains in humans and animals throughout the world have overlapping gene pools and that all the conjugative C. perfringens R-plasmids examined probably evolved from a pCW3-like element.