The clinical and molecular epidemiology of penicillin-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae and the diagnostic accuracy of a six-primer PCR assay in identifying penicillin resistance were analyzed by using clinical isolates recovered over a 10-year period in middle Tennessee. The prevalence of non-penicillin-susceptible S. pneumoniae isolates (MIC, > or =0.1 microg/ml) increased from 10% in 1990 to 70% in 1999 (P < 0.001). Among S. pneumoniae isolates for which the penicillin MIC was > or =2 microg/ml (highly penicillin-resistant S. pneumoniae [PRSP]), 23 and 5% were resistant to at least three and at least five other antimicrobial classes, respectively. Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis identified 13 unique strain types, with type B accounting for 33% of PRSP isolates. The sensitivity, specificity, and negative and positive predictive values of the PCR assay in detecting PRSP were 99, 100, 99, and 100%, respectively. Penicillin resistance is rapidly increasing among S. pneumoniae isolates in Tennessee. The simultaneous detection of S. pneumoniae and high-level penicillin resistance can be accurately performed with the six-primer PCR assay.