Corynebacteria are pleomorphic, asporogenous, Gram-positive bacteria. Included in this group are nonpathogenic soil corynebacteria, which are widely used for the industrial production of amino acids and detergents, and in biotransformation of steroids. Other members of this group are plant and animal pathogens. This review summarizes the current information available about the plasmids of corynebacteria. The emphasis is mainly on the small plasmids, which have been used for construction of vectors for expression of genes in these bacteria. Moreover, considerable information is now available on their nucleotide sequence, gene organization and modes of replication, which would make it possible to further manipulate these plasmids. Other plasmid properties, such as incompatibility and host range, are also discussed. Finally, use of these plasmids as cloning vectors for the expression of heterologous proteins using corynebacteria as hosts is also summarized to highlight the potential of these bacteria as hosts for recombinant DNA. z 1999 Federation of European Microbiological Societies.