The invasion-associated locus A and B genes (ialAB) of Bartonella bacilliformis were previously shown to confer an erythrocyte-invasive phenotype upon Escherichia coli, indirectly implicating their role in virulence. We report the first direct demonstration of a role for ialB as a virulence factor in B. bacilliformis. The presence of a secretory signal sequence and amino acid sequence similarity to two known outer membrane proteins involved in virulence suggested that IalB was an outer membrane protein. To develop an antiserum for protein localization, the ialB gene was cloned in frame into an expression vector with a six-histidine tag and under control of the lacZ promoter. The IalB fusion protein was purified by nickel affinity chromatography and used to raise polyclonal antibodies. IalB was initially localized to the bacterial membrane fraction. To further localize IalB, B. bacilliformis inner and outer membranes were fractionated by sucrose density gradient centrifugation and identified by appearance, buoyant density (p), and cytochrome b content. Inner and outer membrane proteins were analyzed by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE), and IalB was positively identified by Western blot. Contrary to expectations, IalB was localized to the inner membrane of the pathogen. To directly demonstrate a role for IalB in erythrocyte parasitism, the B. bacilliformis ialB gene was disrupted by insertional mutagenesis. The resulting ialB mutant strain was complemented in trans with a replicative plasmid encoding the full-length ialB gene. PCR and high-stringency DNA hybridization confirmed mutagenesis and transcomplementation events. Abrogation and restoration of ialB expression was verified by SDS-PAGE and immunoblotting. In vitro virulence assays showed that mutagenesis of ialB decreased bacterial association and invasion of human erythrocytes by 47 to 53% relative to controls. Transcomplementation of ialB restored erythrocyte association and invasion rates to levels observed in the parental strain. These data provide direct evidence for IalB's role in erythrocyte parasitism and represent the first demonstration of molecular Koch's postulates for a Bartonella species.