The gene encoding virulence associated protein A (VapA) is clustered with three vapA homologues (vapICD) within the pathogenicity island of the virulence plasmid of Rhodococcus equi. Northern blot analysis showed a vapA transcript of c. 700 nucleotides (nt) suggesting that vapA is a monocistronic transcript. However, using the more sensitive RT-PCR, it was shown that vapA is cotranscribed with the downstream vapICD genes forming a 2.3-kb operon. This initial transcript is subsequently processed to give rise to a 700 nt vapA transcript with a half-life of 7.5 min. In contrast, the vapI, vapC and vapD transcripts have an average half-life of 1.8 min, identical to that of the five cistronic virR operon located upstream of the vapA operon. It is speculated that the need for differential gene expression arises from the different localisation of the Vap proteins. VapA is tethered to the surface of the cell wall, whereas VapC and VapD are secreted, diffusable proteins. The intercistronic region between vapC and vapD harbours two short ORFs (OrfA, OrfB). These ORFs are translationally coupled to vapC and vapD in which the start codon overlaps the stop codon of the preceding gene.