The molecular karyotype of nine Trypanosoma rangeli strains was analyzed by contour-clamped homogeneous electric field electrophoresis, followed by the chromosomal localization of ß-tubulin, cysteine proteinase, 70 kDa heat shock protein (hsp 70) and actin genes. The T. rangeli strains were isolated from either insects or mammals from El Salvador, Honduras, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and southern Brazil. Also, T. cruzi CL-Brener clone was included for comparison. Despite the great similarity observed among strains from Brazil, the molecular karyotype of all T. rangeli strains analyzed revealed extensive chromosome polymorphism. In addition, it was possible to distinguish T. rangeli from T. cruzi by the chromosomal DNA electrophoresis pattern. The localization of ß-tubulin genes revealed differences among T. rangeli strains and confirmed the similarity between the isolates from Brazil. Hybridization assays using probes directed to the cysteine proteinase, hsp 70 and actin genes discriminated T. rangeli from T. cruzi, proving that these genes are useful molecular markers for the differential diagnosis between these two species. Numerical analysis based on the molecular karyotype data revealed a high degree of polymorphism among T. rangeli strains isolated from southern Brazil and strains isolated from Central and the northern South America. The T. cruzi reference strain was not clustered with any T. rangeli strain.