Two genes have been identified in Campylobacter coli VC167 which are required for the biosynthesis of post-translational modifications on flagellin proteins. The ptmA gene encodes a protein of predicted M(r) 28,486 which shows significant homology to a family of alcohol dehydrogenases from a variety of bacteria. The ptmB gene encodes a protein of predicted M(r) 26,598 with significant homology to CMP-N-acetylneuraminic acid synthetase enzymes involved in sialic acid capsular biosynthesis in Neisseria meninigitidis and Escherichia coli K1. Site-specific mutation of either ptmA or ptmB caused loss of reactivity with antisera specific to the post-translational modifications and a change in the isoelectric focusing fingerprints relative to the parent strains. Mutation of ptmB, but not of ptmA, caused a change in apparent M(r) of the flagellin subunit in SDS-PAGE gels. The ptmA and ptmB genes are present in other strains of Campylobacter. In a rabbit model the ptmA mutant showed a reduced ability to elicit protection against subsequent challenge with heterologous strains of the same Lior serotype compared to the parental wild-type strain. This suggests that the surface-exposed post-translational modifications may play a significant role in the protective immune response.