Yersinia pestis KIM5 was found to be cytotoxic for the IC21 and P388D1 mouse macrophage cell lines, as well as for resident peritoneal macrophages from C57BL/6 mice. Affected cells phagocytosed KIM5 inefficiently, became spherical, detached readily from culture dishes, and retained 51Cr poorly. The cytotoxic effect was dependent on the presence of the 75-kilobase plasmid pCD1. Because this plasmid also encodes the low calcium response (LCR), three Mu d1 insertion mutants previously shown to be LCR- and of reduced virulence in mice were examined for cytotoxicity; all were found to be atoxic. The insertions in these mutants lie within three distinct LCR loci (lcrB, C, and D). Like LCR, cytotoxicity was expressed only at 37°C. Unlike LCR, it was not influenced by Ca2+ concentration, indicating that the V and W antigens are probably not involved. Yersinia pseudotuberculosis was found to have a similar plasmid-dependent cytotoxicity. Thus, biological activity observed as cytotoxicity in vitro may well be a common feature contributing to virulence of the yersiniae.