The ITS1, ITS2, and 5.8S gene sequences of nuclear ribosomal DNA from 40 taxa of the family Heteroderidae (including the genera Afenestrata, Cactodera, Heterodera, Globodera, Punctodera, Meloidodera, Cryphodera, and Thecavermiculatus) were sequenced and analyzed. The ITS regions displayed high levels of sequence divergence within Heteroderinae and compared to outgroup taxa. Unlike recent findings in root knot nematodes, ITS sequence polymorphism does not appear to complicate phylogenetic analysis of cyst nematodes. Phylogenetic analyses with maximum-parsimony, minimum-evolution, and maximum-likelihood methods were performed with a range of computer alignments, including elision and culled alignments. All multiple alignments and phylogenetic methods yielded similar basic structure for phylogenetic relationships of Heteroderidae. The cyst-forming nematodes are represented by six main clades corresponding to morphological characters and host specialization, with certain clades assuming different positions depending on alignment procedure and/or method of phylogenetic inference. Hypotheses of monophyly of Punctoderinae and Heteroderinae are, respectively, strongly and moderately supported by the ITS data across most alignments. Close relationships were revealed between the Avenae and the Sacchari groups and between the Humuli group and the species H. salixophila within Heteroderinae. The Goettingiana group occupies a basal position within this subfamily. The validity of the genera Afenestrata and Bidera was tested and is discussed based on molecular data. We conclude that ITS sequence data are appropriate for studies of relationships within the different species groups and less so for recovery of more ancient speciations within Heteroderidae. (C) 2001 Academic Press.