Group A streptococci, a common human pathogen, secrete streptokinase, which activates the host's blood clot-dissolving protein, plasminogen. Streptokinase is highly specific for human plasminogen, exhibiting little or no activity against other mammalian species, including mouse. Here, a transgene expressing human plasminogen markedly increased mortality in mice infected with streptococci, and this susceptibility was dependent on bacterial streptokinase expression. Thus, streptokinase is a key pathogenicity factor and the primary determinant of host species specificity for group A streptococcal infection. In addition, local fibrin clot formation may be implicated in host defense against microbial pathogens.