A cosmid clone which was capable of depleting acetoin in vivo was isolated from a library of Klebsiella pneumoniae CG43 cosmids. The smallest functional subclone contained a 3.9-kb DNA fragment of the cosmid clone. Sequencing of the DNA fragment revealed three open reading frames (ORFs A, B, and C) encoding polypeptides of 34, 36, and 52 kDa, respectively. The presence of these proteins was demonstrated by expression of the recombinant DNA clone in Escherichia coli. Considerable similarities between the deduced amino acid sequences of the ORFs and those of the following enzymes were found: acetoin dissimilation enzymes, pyruvate dehydrogenase complex, 2-oxoglutarate dehydrogenase complex, and branched-chain 2-oxo acid dehydrogenase complex of various origins. Activities of these enzymes, including acetoin-dependent dichlorophenolin-dophenol oxidoreductase and dihydrolipoamide acetyltransferase, were detected in the extracts of E. coli harboring the genes encoding products of the three ORFs. Although not required for acetoin depletion in vivo, a possible fourth ORF (ORF D), located 39 nucleotides downstream of ORF C, was also identified. The deduced N-terminal sequence of the ORF D product was highly homologous to the dihydrolipoamide dehydrogenases of several organisms. Primer extension analysis identified the transcriptional start of the operon as an A residue 72 nucleotides upstream of ORF A.