We have identified and characterized the phage cistrons required for assembly of SPP1 heads. A DNA fragment containing most of the head morphogenesis genes was cloned and sequenced. The 3'-end of a previously identified gene (gene 6) and eight complete open reading frames (7 to 15) were predicted. We have assigned genes 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 to these orfs by correlating genetic and immunological data with DNA and protein sequence information. G7P was identified as a minor structural component of proheads and heads, G11P as the scaffold protein, G12P and G15P as head minor proteins and G13P as the coat protein. Characterization of intermediates in head assembly, which accumulate during infection with mutants deficient in DNA packaging or in morphogenetic genes, allowed the definition of the head assembly pathway. No proteolytic processing of any of the head components was detected. Removal of G11P by mutation leads to the accumulation of prohead-related structures and aberrant particles which are similar to the assemblies formed by purified G13P in the absence of other phage-encoded proteins. The native molecular masses of G11P and G13P are about 350 kDa and larger than 5000 kDa, respectively (predicted molecular masses 23.4 kDa and 35.3 kDa, respectively). G13P, upon denaturation and renaturation, assembles from protomers into some prohead-related structures. The organization of the DNA packaging and head genes of SPP1 resembles the organization of genes in the analogous regions of phage lambda and P22.