To investigate the significance of silent gene loci for pilus antigenic variation in N. gonorrhoeae, we determined the nucleotide sequence of the major silent locus, pilS1. The pilS1 locus contains six tandem pilus gene copies linked by a 39 bp repeat sequence also present in the expression loci. All silent copies lack the common N-terminal coding sequence of pilin, containing instead variant sequence information that constitutes a semivariable (SV) and a hypervariable (HV) domain. The SV and HV domains are interspersed with short, strictly conserved (C) regions flanking small cassettes of variable sequence information. It appears that such minicassettes from silent copies can be duplicated and transferred to other silent or expression genes by means of gene conversion.