The IgA-degrading metalloprotease, ZapA, of the urinary tract pathogen Proteus mirabilis is co-ordinately expressed along with other proteins and virulence factors during swarmer cell differentiation. In this communication, we have used zapA to monitor IgA protease expression during the differentiation of vegetative swimmer cells to fully differentiated swarmer cells. Northern blot analysis of wild-type cells and beta-galactosidase measurements using a zapA:lacZ fusion strain indicate that zapA is fully expressed only in differentiated swarmer cells. Moreover, the expression of zapA on nutrient agar medium is co-ordinately regulated in concert with the cycles of cellular differentiation, swarm migration and consolidation that produce the bull's-eye colonies typically associated with P. mirabilis. ZapA activity is not required for swarmer cell differentiation or swarming behaviour, as ZapA- strains produce wild-type colony patterns. ZapA- strains fail to degrade IgA and show decreased survival compared with the wild-type cells during infection in a mouse model of ascending urinary tract infection (UTI). These data underscore the importance of the P. mirabilis IgA-degrading metalloprotease in UTI. Analysis of the nucleotide sequences adjacent to zapA reveals four additional genes, zapE, zapB, zapC and zapD, which appear to possess functions required for ZapA activity and IgA proteolysis. Based on homology to other known proteins, these genes encode a second metalloprotease, ZapE, as well as a ZapA-specific ABC transporter system (ZapB, ZapC and ZapD). A model describing the function and interaction of each of these five proteins in the degradation of host IgA during UTI is presented.