An essential early event in Shigella and Salmonella pathogenesis is invasion of non-phagocytic intestinal epithelial cells. Pathogen entry is triggered by the delivery of multiple bacterial effector proteins into target mammalian cells. The Shigella invasion plasmid antigen B (IpaB), which inserts into the host plasma membrane, is required for effector delivery and invasion. To investigate the biochemical properties and membrane topology of IpaB, we purified the native full-length protein following expression in laboratory Escherichia coli. Purified IpaB assembled into trimers via an N-terminal domain predicted to form a trimeric coiled-coil, and is predominantly alpha-helical. Upon lipid interaction, two transmembrane domains (residues 313-333 and 399-419) penetrate the bilayer, allowing the intervening hydrophilic region (334-398) to cross the membrane. Purified IpaB integrated into model, erythrocyte and mammalian cell membranes without disrupting bilayer integrity, and induced liposome fusion in vitro. An IpaB-derived 162 residue alpha-helical polypeptide (IpaB(418-580)) is a potent inhibitor of IpaB-directed liposome fusion in vitro and blocked Shigella entry into cultured mammalian cells at 10(-8) M. It is also a heterologous inhibitor of Salmonella invasion protein B (SipB) activity and Salmonella entry. In contrast, IpaB(418-580) failed to prevent the contact-dependent haemolytic activity of Shigella. These findings question the proposed direct link between contact-dependent haemolysis and Shigella entry, and demonstrate that IpaB and SipB share biochemical properties and membrane topology, consistent with a conserved mode of action during cell entry.