The development and clinical evaluation of a LightCycler PCR assay, including an internal process control (IPC), to detect the Streptococcus pneumoniae autolysin gene in clinical samples is reported. The assay was developed to provide a second target for use in conjunction with existing pneumolysin PCR assays to increase the reliability of non-culture PCR diagnosis of pneumococcal infection. Primers amplify a 173 bp fragment of the autolysin gene (lytA), which is detected by fluorescence-labelled hybridization probes. An IPC was designed to check for the presence of PCR inhibitors and loss of assay sensitivity. The IPC product was amplified by the lytA primers and detected by a second set of hybridization probes. The analytical specificity of the autolysin PCR assay was 100 % against 39 other bacterial species tested; these included related streptococci and other organisms. The assay, which could reliably detect 50 fg purified pneumococcal DNA per reaction, was capable of distinguishing between S. pneumoniae and atypical Streptococcus mitis and Streptococcus oralis strains known to contain the lytA gene. Using DNA extracts from a panel of EDTA bloods from patients with blood-culture-confirmed pneumococcal infection, the autolysin PCR had a sensitivity of 42.9 %, which was similar to a previously reported TaqMan pneumolysin PCR (43.8 %) run in parallel. Total agreement was shown between the autolysin assay and the pneumolysin TaqMan assay when used to test 23 culture-negative clinical samples, of which eight were positive by PCR, adding valuable clinical information. A specific autolysin-based LightCycler assay has been developed to complement pneumolysin PCR for the detection of S. pneumoniae in clinical samples. This should be a particularly useful tool for the rapid and sensitive diagnosis of pneumococcal meningitis, even after an antibiotic has been administered. However, poor sensitivity on blood samples limits its usefulness in other bacteraemic infections.