Primary infection by group A streptococci (GAS) takes place at either the throat or skin of the human host, often leading to pharyngitis or impetigo, respectively. Many GAS strains differ in their preference for throat and skin tissue sites. Previous epidemiological findings show that many of the strains displaying strong tropism for the skin have a high-affinity binding site for plasminogen, located within M protein (PAM), a prominent surface fibril. Plasminogen bound by PAM interacts with streptokinase, a plasminogen activator secreted by GAS, to yield bacterial-bound plasmin activity. In this study, PAM and streptokinase were tested for their roles in infection using an experimental model that closely mimics human impetigo. Inactivation of genes encoding either PAM or streptokinase led to a partial, but significant, loss of virulence in vivo, as measured by net growth of the bacteria and pathological alterations. The relative loss in virulence in vivo was greater for the streptokinase mutant than for the PAM mutant. However, the PAM mutant, but not the streptokinase mutant, displayed a partial loss in resistance to phagocytosis in vitro. The combined experimental and epidemiological data provide evidence that PAM and streptokinase play a key role in mediating skin-specific infection by GAS. In addition, secreted cysteine proteinase activity due to SpeB leads to degradation of streptokinase in stationary phase broth cultures. Since SpeB is also a determinant of tissue-specific GAS infection at the skin, direct interactions between these two proteolytic pathways may constitute an important pathogenic mechanism. An integrated model for superficial infection at the skin is presented.