Aggregation and biofilm formation are critical mechanisms for bacterial resistance to host immune factors and antibiotics. Autotransporter (AT) proteins, which represent the largest group of outer-membrane and secreted proteins in Gram-negative bacteria, contribute significantly to these phenotypes. Despite their abundance and role in bacterial pathogenesis, most AT proteins have not been structurally characterized, and there is a paucity of detailed information with regard to their mode of action. Here we report the structure-function relationships of Antigen 43 (Ag43a), a prototypic self-associating AT protein from uropathogenic Escherichia coli. The functional domain of Ag43a displays a twisted L-shaped β-helical structure firmly stabilized by a 3D hydrogen-bonded scaffold. Notably, the distinctive Ag43a L shape facilitates self-association and cell aggregation. Combining all our data, we define a molecular "Velcro-like" mechanism of AT-mediated bacterial clumping, which can be tailored to fit different bacterial lifestyles such as the formation of biofilms.