The social gliding behaviour of Myxococcus xanthus has previously been associated with the presence of polar pili. A Tn5 transposon insertion was isolated which introduces a defect in social gliding and is genetically linked to a known sgl locus; this insertion was found also to cause a piliation defect. A 2.7 kb section of DNA was isolated from either side of this transposon and sequenced, revealing three genes which encode amino acid sequences with substantial similarity to components of the Type IV pilus biogenesis pathway in Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The myxococcal pilA gene encodes a putative pilin precursor with a short signal sequence and processing site similar to those of other Type IV pilins. Myxococcal pilS and pilR encode amino acid sequences with similarity to PilS and PilR of P. aeruginosa, as well as to other members of the NtrB/C family of two-component regulators. Mutations within pilR and pilA that have no polar effect were demonstrated to be responsible for pilus and social motility defects. These results indicate that the pili of M. xanthus belong to the Type IV family of pili, and demonstrate that these pili are actually required for social motility.