Strains of the bacterium Escherichia coli that cause infections of the human urinary tract produce so-called Pap-pili, which are hair-like appendages consisting of about 10(3) helically arranged subunits of the protein PapA. These pili mediate binding to digalactoside-containing glycolipids present on the epithelial cells which line the urinary tract. Recently, it has been suggested that three proteins, PapE, PapF and PapG, are responsible for this binding. In the absence of PapA, non-piliated bacteria are formed which nonetheless exhibit binding, showing that the bulk of the pilus is not essential for binding. Although pili can form without PapF and PapG, such pili are unable to bind to the digalactoside. The protein PapG mediates binding specificity in trans-complementation experiments, so this protein is the digalactoside-specific adhesin. Using immuno-electron microscopy we have found that Pap-pili are heteropolymers composed of the major pilin, PapA, the minor pilins, PapE and PapF, and the adhesin, PapG. The last three proteins are located at the tip of the pilus.