Parasitism genes from phytoparasitic nematodes are thought to be essential for nematode invasion of the host plant, to help the nematode establish feeding sites, and to aid nematodes in the suppression of host plant defenses. One gene that may play several roles in nematode parasitism is chorismate mutase (CM). This secreted enzyme is produced in the nematode's esophageal glands and appears to function within the plant cell to manipulate the plant's shikimate pathway, which controls plant cell growth, development, structure, and pathogen defense. Using degenerate polymerase chain reaction primers, we amplified and cloned a chorismate mutase (Hg-cm-1) from Heterodera glycines, the soybean cyst nematode (SCN), and showed it had CM activity. RNA in situ hybridization of Hg-cm-1 cDNA to SCN sections confirms that it is specifically expressed in the nematodes' esophageal glands. DNA gel blots of genomic DNA isolated from SCN inbred lines that have differing virulence on SCN resistant soybean show Hg-cm-1 is a member of a polymorphic gene family. Some Hg-cm family members predominate in SCN inbred lines that are virulent on certain SCN resistant soybean cultivars. The same polymorphisms and correlation with virulence are seen in the Hg-cm-1 expressed in the SCN second-stage juveniles. Based on the enzymatic activity of Hg-cm-1 and the observation that different forms of the mutase are expressed in virulent nematodes, we hypothesize that the Hg-cm-1 is a virulence gene, some forms of which allow SCN to parasitize certain resistant soybean plants.