An intraspecific study on Phlebotomus papatasi, the main proven vector of Leishmania major among the members of the subgerms Phlebotomus, was performed. The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS 2) of rDNA and the ND4 gene of mt DNA were sequenced from 26 populations from 18 countries (Albania, Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, Yugoslavia and Yemen), and compared. Samples also included three other species belonging to the subgenus Phlebotomus: P. duboscqi, a proven vector of L major in the south of Sahara (three populations from Burkina Faso, Kenya and Senegal), P. bergeroti, a suspected vector of L. major (three populations from Oman Sultanate, Iran and Egypt), and one population of P. salehi from Iran. A phylogenetic study was carried out on the subgenus Phlebotomus. Our results confirm the validity of the morphologically characterized taxa. The position of P. salehi is doubtful. Variability in P. papatasi contrasts with that observed within other species having a wide distribution like P. (Paraphlebotomus) sergenti in the Old World or Lutzomyia (Lutzomyia) longipalpis in the New World. Consequently, it could be hypothesized that all populations of P. papatasi over its distribution area have similar vectorial capacities. The limits of the distribution area of L major are correlated with the distribution of common rodents acting as hosts of the parasites. (C) 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.