We find that pADEO16, a recombinant cosmid carrying the rck gene of the Salmonella typhimurium virulence plasmid, when cloned into either rough or smooth Escherichia coli and Salmonella strains, confers high level resistance to the bactericidal activity of pooled normal human serum. The rck gene encodes a 17-kD outer membrane protein that is homologous to a family of virulence-associated outer membrane proteins, including pagC and Ail. Complement depletion, C3 and C5 binding, and membrane-bound C3 cleavage products are similar in strains with and without rck. Although a large difference in C9 binding was not seen, trypsin cleaved 55.7% of bound 125I-C9 counts from rough S. typhimurium with pADEO16, whereas only 26.4% were released from S. typhimurium with K2011, containing a mutation in rck. The majority of C9 extracted from rck strain membranes sediments at a lower molecular weight than in strains without rck, suggesting less C9 polymerization. Furthermore, SDS-PAGE analysis of gradient peak fractions indicated that the slower sedimenting C9-containing complexes in rck strains did not contain polymerized C9 typical of the tubular membrane attack complex. These results indicate that complement resistance mediated by Rck is associated with a failure to form fully polymerized tubular membrane attack complexes.