PapD is the periplasmic chaperone required for the assembly of P pili in pyelonephritic strains of Escherichia coli. It consists of two immunoglobulin-like domains bisected by a subunit binding cleft. PapD is the prototype member of a superfamily of immunoglobulin-like chaperones that work in concert with their respective ushers to assemble a plethora of adhesive organelles including pilus- and non-pilus-associated adhesins. Three highly conserved residue clusters have been shown to play critical roles in the structure and function of PapD, as determined by site-directed mutagenesis. The in vivo stability of the chaperone depended on the formation of a buried salt bridge within the cleft. Residues along the G1 beta strand were required for efficient binding of subunits consistent with the crystal structure of PapD-peptide complexes. Finally, Thr-53, a residue that is part of a conserved band of residues located on the aminoterminal domain surface opposite the subunit binding cleft, was also found to be critical for pilus assembly, but mutations at Thr-53 did not interfere with chaperone-subunit complex formation.