Autotransporter proteins constitute a family of outer membrane/secreted proteins that possess unique structural properties that facilitate their independent transport across the bacterial membrane system and final routing to the cell surface. Autotransporter proteins have been identified in a wide range of Gram-negative bacteria and are often associated with virulence functions such as adhesion, aggregation, invasion, biofilm formation and toxicity. The importance of autotransporter proteins is exemplified by the fact that they constitute an essential component of some human vaccines. Autotransporter proteins contain three structural motifs: a signal sequence, a passenger domain and a translocator domain. Here, the structural properties of the passenger and translocator domains of three type Va autotransporter proteins are compared and contrasted, namely pertactin from Bordetella pertussis, the adhesion and penetration protein (Hap) from Haemophilus influenzae and Antigen 43 (Ag43) from Escherichia coli. The Ag43 protein is described in detail to examine how its structure relates to functional properties such as cell adhesion, aggregation and biofilm formation. The widespread occurrence of autotransporter-encoding genes, their apparent uniform role in virulence and their ability to interact with host cells suggest that they may represent rational targets for the design of novel vaccines directed against Gram-negative pathogens.