The 220 kDa filamentous haemagglutinin (FHA) is a major adhesin of Bordetella pertussis and is produced from a large precursor designated FhaB. Although partly surface associated, it is also very efficiently secreted into the extracellular milieu. Its secretion depends on the outer membrane accessory protein FhaC. An 80 kDa N-terminal derivative of FHA, named Fha44, can also be very efficiently secreted in a FhaC-dependent manner, indicating that all necessary secretion signals are localized in the N-terminal region of FhaB. A comparison of predicted and apparent sizes of FHA derivatives, in addition to immunoblot analyses of cell-associated and secreted FHA polypeptides, indicated that FhaB undergoes N-terminal maturation by the cleavage of an 8-9 kDa segment. However, phenotypic analyses of translational lacZ and phoA fusions showed that this segment does not function as a typical signal peptide. Co-expression of the Fha44-encoding gene with fhaC also did not allow for secretion of Fha44 in Escherichia coli. High levels of secretion could, however, be observed when the OmpA signal peptide was fused to the N-terminal end of Fha44. Regardless of the OmpA signal peptide-Fha44 fusion point, the E. coli-secreted Fha44 had the same M(r) as that secreted by B. pertussis, indicating that the N-terminal proteolytic maturation does not require a B. pertussis-specific factor. Similar to FHA, the B. pertussis-secreted Fha44 contains an as yet uncharacterized modification at its N-terminus. This modification did not occur in E. coli and is therefore not required for secretion. The N-terminus of Fha44 secreted by E. coli was determined and found to correspond to the 72nd residue after the first in-frame methionine of FhaB. The N-terminal modification was also found not to be required for haemagglutination or interaction with sulphated glycoconjugates.