The oral bacterium Streptococcus gordonii expresses two cell wall- associated polypeptides, designated SspA (1,542 amino acid residues) and SspB (1,462 amino acid residues), that have 70% sequence identity. These polypeptides are members of the antigen I/II family of oral streptococcal adhesins and mediate the binding of streptococci to salivary glycoproteins, collagen, and other oral microorganisms such as Actinomyces naeslundii. To determine if SspA and SspB have differential binding properties, the coding sequences of the sspA and sspB genes were cloned into expression plasmid vector pTREXl-usp45LS to generate pTREXI-sspA and pTREX1sspB, respectively, and the Ssp polypeptides were displayed on the cell surface of Lactococcus lactis MG1363. Lactococcal cells expressing similar levels of surface SspA or SspB polypeptide were then compared for their abilities to adhere to a range of antigen I/II polypeptide substrates. More than twice as many L. lactis cells expressing SspA bound to immobilized salivary agglutinin glycoprotein (SAG) as did L. lactis cells expressing SspB. In contrast, lactococci expressing SspB adhered twice as well as lactococci producing SspA to collagen type I and to Candida albicans. The binding of A. naeslundii to lactococci was only weakly enhanced by surface expression of Ssp polypeptides. L. lactis(pTREX1-sspB) cells bound in greater numbers to SAG than did Enterococcus faecalis JH2-2 cells expressing SspB from pAM401EB-5. The results suggest that SspA and SspB have markedly different binding affinities for their oral substrates and thus may function to promote site diversity in colonization by S. gordonii.