Curli are thin, coiled, temperature-regulated fibres on fibronectin-binding Escherichia coli. The subunit protein of curli was highly homologous at its amino terminus to SEF-17, the subunit protein of thin, aggregative fimbriae of Salmonella enteritidis 27655 strain 3b, suggesting that these fibres form a novel class of surface organelles on enterobacteria. E. coli HB101 is non-curliated and unable to bind soluble, iodinated fibronectin. The phenotypically cryptic curlin subunit gene, csgA, in HB101 is transcriptionally activated by expressing the cytoplasmic Crl on a multicopy plasmid. Transcriptional activation of csgA by Crl was observed after growth at 26 degrees C but not at 37 degrees C, even though crl transcription was not thermoregulated. A deletion of the 39 carboxy-terminal residues abolished Crl activity, whereas a deletion of 10 residues at the C-terminus did not, implying that a region between residue 93 and 122 in the 132-amino-acid-residue large Crl protein is required for activating curli expression in E. coli HB101. crl is a normal housekeeping gene in E. coli and it is suggested that its gene product may either be a DNA-binding protein affecting chromatin structure as has been suggested for histone-like protein H1 or interact with specific regulatory protein(s) controlling transcription of genes required for curli formation and fibronectin binding.