To characterize the functional cell surface, the zeta potentials and elemental surface composition of Streptococcus salivarius HB and a range of mutants with known molecular surface structures were determined. Zeta potentials of fully hydrated cells were measured as a function of pH in dilute potassium phosphate solutions, yielding isoelectric points of the strains. Elemental composition (O, C, N, and P) of the outer 2 to 5 nm of the freeze-dried cell surfaces were measured by X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy. An increasing loss of proteinaceous fibrillar surface antigens of the mutants was found to be accompanied by a progressive decrease in the N/C ratio from 0.104 in the parent strain HB to 0.053 in mutant HBC12. Simultaneously, the value of the isoelectric point shifted from 3.0 to 1.3. In a previous study (A.H. Weerkamp, H.C. van der Mei, and J. W. Slot, Infect. Immun. 55:438-455, 1987) on the cell surfaces of the same strains, it was shown that removal of fibrils led to increased exposure of (lipo)teichoic acid at the surface, which explains the low isoelectric point caused by the low pKa of the phosphate groups.