Studies of gonococcal pilus biogenesis are fundamental to understanding organelle structure/function relationships and identifying new approaches to controlling disease. This area of research is also relevant to elucidating the basic mechanisms of outer membrane translocation of macromolecules, which requires components highly related to those involved in type IV pilus expression. Previous studies have shown that products of several ancillary pil genes are required for organelle biogenesis but of these only PilQ, a member of the GspD protein family, is a component of the outer membrane. DNA sequencing of the region upstream of pilQ revealed the presence of two open reading frames (ORFs) whose deduced polypeptides shared significant identities with proteins required for pilus expression in Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Pseudomonas syringae, the genes for which are arrayed upstream of a gene encoding a PilQ homologue. Gonococcal mutants bearing transposon insertions in these ORFs were non-piliated and failed to express pilus-associated phenotypes, and the corresponding genes were designated PilO and pilP. The piliation defects in the mutants could not be ascribed to polarity on distal pilQ expression as shown by direct measurement of PilQ antigen in those backgrounds and the use of a novel technique to create tandem duplications in the gonococcus (Gc) genome. As predicted by the presence of a consensus lipoprotein signal sequence, PilP expressed in both Escherichia coli and Gc could be labelled with [3H]-palmitic acid. PilP- as well as PilQ- mutants shed PilC, a protein which facilitates pilus assembly and is implicated in epithelial cell adherence, in a soluble form. Combined with the finding that levels of multimerized PiIQ were greatly reduced in PilP- mutants, the results suggest that PilP is required for PilQ function and that PilQ and PilC may interact during the terminal stages of pilus biogenesis. The findings also support the hypothesis that the Gc PilQ multimer corresponds to a physiologically relevant form of the protein required for pilus biogenesis.