Expression of type IV pili appears to be a requisite determinant of infectivity for the strict human pathogens Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Neisseria meningitidis. The assembly of these colonization factors is a complex process. This report describes a new pilus-assembly gene, pilG, that immediately precedes the gonococcal (Gc) pilD gene encoding the pre-pilin leader peptidase. The nucleotide sequence of this region revealed a single complete open reading frame whose derived polypeptide displayed significant identities to the pilus-assembly protein PilC of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and other polytopic integral cytoplasmic membrane constituents involved in protein export and competence. A unique polypeptide of M(r) 38 kDa corresponding to the gene product was identified. A highly related gene and flanking sequences were cloned from a group B polysaccharide-producing strain of N. meningitidis (Mc). The results indicate that the pilG genes and genetic organization at these loci in Gc and Mc are extremely conserved. Hybridization studies strongly suggest that pilG-related genes exist in commensal Neisseria species and other species known to express type IV pili. Defined genetic lesions were created by using insertional and transposon mutagenesis and moved into the Gc and Mc chromosomes by allelic replacement. Chromosomal pilG insertion mutants were devoid of pili and displayed dramatically reduced competence for transformation. These findings could not be ascribed to pilin-gene alterations or to polarity exerted on pilD expression. The results indicated that PilG exerts its own independent role in neisserial pilus biogenesis.