Type-4 fimbriae (or pili) are filaments found at the poles of a wide range of bacterial pathogens, including Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Moraxella bovis, Dichelobacter nodosus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. They are composed of a small subunit which is highly conserved among different species and appear to mediate adhesion and translocation across epithelial surfaces via a phenomenon termed "twitching motility'. These fimbriae are key host colonisation factors and important protective antigens. We have analysed the genetics and biosynthesis of type-4 fimbriae in P. aeruginosa, which is an opportunistic pathogen of compromised individuals, including those suffering cystic fibrosis, AIDS or burns. A library of P. aeruginosa transposon mutants was constructed which exhibited loss of twitching motility, as determined by altered colony morphology. Analysis of these mutants, and of similar collections by other groups, have revealed that there are at least 22 genes involved in type-4 fimbrial assembly and function. A large number (pilA, B, C, D, E, M, N, O, P, Q, T, U, V and Z) appear to be involved in the biogenesis of the fimbriae and to represent a subset of a supersystem involved in the assembly of surface-associated protein complexes. Homologs of at least some of these genes have subsequently been identified in other type-4 fimbriate bacteria. In P. aeruginosa, the system is also regulated via two signal transduction pathways-a classic sensor-regulator system (encoded by pilS, pilR and rpoN) which controls transcription of the fimbrial subunit, presumably in response to host cues, and a chemotactic system (encoded by pilG, H, I, J, K and L) which may be involved in the directional or rate control of twitching motility in response to local environmental variables.