The structures of cytoplasmic peptidoglycan precursor and mature peptidoglycan of an isogenic series of Staphylococcus haemolyticus strains expressing increasing levels of resistance to the glycopeptide antibiotics teicoplanin and vancomycin (MICs, 8 to 32 and 4 to 16 microg/ml, respectively) were determined. High-performance liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry, amino acid analysis, digestion by R39 D,D-carboxypeptidase, and N-terminal amino acid sequencing were utilized. UDP-muramyl-tetrapeptide-D-lactate constituted 1.7% of total cytoplasmic peptidoglycan precursors in the most resistant strain. It is not clear if this amount of depsipeptide precursor can account for the levels of resistance achieved by this strain. Detailed structural analysis of mature peptidoglycan, examined for the first time for this species, revealed that the peptidoglycan of these strains, like that of other staphylococci, is highly cross-linked and is composed of a lysine muropeptide acceptor containing a substitution at its epsilon-amino position of a glycine-containing cross bridge to the D-Ala 4 of the donor, with disaccharide-pentapeptide frequently serving as an acceptor for transpeptidation. The predominant cross bridges were found to be COOH-Gly-Gly-Ser-Gly-Gly-NH2 and COOH-Ala-Gly-Ser-Gly-Gly-NH2. Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis of the peptidoglycan of resistant strains revealed polymeric muropeptides bearing cross bridges containing an additional serine in place of glycine (probable structures, COOH-Gly-Ser-Ser-Gly-Gly-NH2 and COOH-Ala-Gly-Ser-Ser-Gly-NH2). Muropeptides bearing an additional serine in their cross bridges are estimated to account for 13.6% of peptidoglycan analyzed from resistant strains of S. haemolyticus. A soluble glycopeptide target (L-Ala-gamma-D-iso-glutamyl-L-Lys-D-Ala-D-Ala) was able to more effectively compete for vancomycin when assayed in the presence of resistant cells than when assayed in the presence of susceptible cells, suggesting that some of the resistance was directed towards the cooperativity of glycopeptide binding to its target. These results are consistent with a hypothesis that alterations at the level of the cross bridge might interfere with the binding of glycopeptide dimers and therefore with the cooperative binding of the antibiotic to its target in situ. Glycopeptide resistance in S. haemolyticus may be multifactorial.