A class of proteins that are associated with the cell surface of Gram-positive bacteria has been recognised. Common structural features which are implicated in the proper secretion and attachment of these proteins to the cell surface occur in the C-termini. N-terminal domains interact with the host by binding to soluble host proteins, to matrix proteins or to host cells. They probably have important roles in pathogenicity by allowing bacteria to avoid host defences and by acting as adhesins. Four such proteins of Staphylococcus aureus have been characterised: protein A (immunoglobulin binding protein), fibronectin binding proteins, collagen binding protein and the fibrinogen binding protein (clumping factor). Site-specific mutants are being used to define their roles in pathogenesis in in vitro and in vivo models of adherence and infection.