The antigen I/II family of cell-surface-anchored polypeptides in oral streptococci are structurally complex multi-functional adhesins, with multiple ligand-binding sites. Discrete regions within these polypeptides bind human salivary glycoproteins, other microbial cells, and calcium. Sequences within the N-terminal region bind preferentially fluid-phase glycoproteins, while the C-terminal half of the polypeptide contains species-specific adhesion-mediating sequences that bind surface-immobilized glycoproteins. These features may assist streptococcal adhesion to oral surface receptors despite the presence of excess fluid-phase receptors. Immunological studies reveal an array of T-cell and B-cell epitopes presented by antigen I/II polypeptides and suggest the occurrence of natural suppression of human antibodies to the adhesion-mediating sequences. The functional and immunological properties of antigen I/II proteins may account to a major extent for the success of oral streptococci colonizing and surviving within the human host.