Adhesins from oral bacteria perform an important function in colonizing target tissues within the dentogingival cavity. In Porphyromonas gingivalis certain of these adhesion proteins exist as a complex with either of two major proteinases referred to as gingipain R (arginine-specific gingipain) and gingipain K (lysine-specific gingipain) (R. N. Pike, W. T. McGraw, J. Potempa, and J. Travis, J. Biol. Chem. 269:406-411, 1994). With specific proteinase inhibitors, it was shown that hemagglutination by either proteinase-adhesin complex could occur independently of proteinase activity. Significantly, low concentrations of fibrinogen, fibronectin, and laminin inhibited hemagglutination, indicating that adherence to these proteins and not the hemagglutination activity was a primary property of the adhesin activity component of complexes. Binding studies with gingipain K and gingipain R suggest that interaction with fibrinogen is a major function of the adhesin domain, with dissociation constants for binding to fibrinogen being 4 and 8.5 nM, respectively. Specific association with fibronectin and laminin was also found. All bound proteins were degraded by the functional proteinase domain, with gingipain R being more active on laminin and fibronectin and gingipain K being more effective in the digestion of fibrinogen. Cumulatively, these data suggest that gingipain R and gingipain K, acting as proteinase-adhesin complexes, progressively attach to, degrade, and detach from target proteins. Since such complexes appear to be present on the surfaces of both vesicles and membranes of P. gingivalis, they may play an important role in the attachment of this bacterium to host cell surfaces.