Local protein structure prediction efforts have consistently failed to exceed approximately 70% accuracy. We characterize the degeneracy of the mapping from local sequence to local structure responsible for this failure by investigating the extent to which similar sequence segments found in different proteins adopt similar three-dimensional structures. Sequence segments 3-15 residues in length from 154 different protein families are partitioned into neighborhoods containing segments with similar sequences using cluster analysis. The consistency of the sequence-to-structure mapping is assessed by comparing the local structures adopted by sequence segments in the same neighborhood in proteins of known structure. In the 154 families, 45% and 28% of the positions occur in neighborhoods in which one and two local structures predominate, respectively. The sequence patterns that characterize the neighborhoods in the first class probably include virtually all of the short sequence motifs in proteins that consistently occur in a particular local structure. These patterns, many of which occur in transitions between secondary structural elements, are an interesting combination of previously studied and novel motifs. The identification of sequence patterns that consistently occur in one or a small number of local structures in proteins should contribute to the prediction of protein structure from sequence.