SLH domains (for surface layer homology) are involved in the attachment of proteins to bacterial cell walls. The data presented here assign the conserved TRAE motif within SLH domains a key role for the binding. The charged amino acids arginine (R) or/and glutamic acid (E) were replaced via site-directed mutagenesis by different amino acids. Effects were visualized in an in vitro binding assay using native cell wall sacculi of Thermoanaerobacterium thermosulfurigenes EM1 and different variants of an SLH protein which consisted of the triplicate SLH domain of xylanase XynA of this bacterium and which was purified after expression in Escherichia coli. The results indicated (1) that the TRAE motif is critical for the binding function of SLH domains, (2) that a functional TRAE motif is necessary in all three domains, (3) that a least one (preferentially positively) charged amino acid in the TRAE motif is required for the functionality of the SLH domain, and (4) that the position of the negatively and positively charged amino acids is important. The finding that the cell wall of T. thermosulfurigenes EM1 contains pyruvate (4 μg mg-1) is in agreement with the hypothesis that pyruvylated secondary cell wall polymers function as ligand for SLH domains.