One hundred and sixty-eight isolates of obtained in Italy from 112 children with diarrhoea and 56 age-matched controls were examined by the HEp-2 cell adhesion assay. Sixteen strains showed localised adherence (LA), 29 showed diffuse adherence (DA) and eight strains showed aggregative adherence (AA). No adhesion pattern was significantly associated with disease. Strains that showed LA or AA were further characterised by serotyping, fluorescent actin staining (FAS) test and hybridisation with the EPEC adherence factor (EAF), attaching and effacing () and enteroaggregative (EAgg) DNA probes. Strains that showed poor LA were FAS-negative, did not belong to EPEC serotypes and did not hybridise with EPEC probes. Conversely, the two strains that showed a good LA pattern belonged to serotype O128: H2, were FAS positive and hybridised with the probe. No isolate hybridised with the EAF probe. Only three of the eight strains with the AA pattern hybridised with the EAgg probe. Probe positivity correlated with the ability to produce clumps at the surface of the liquid culture and to agglutinate rat erythrocytes. In two of these EAgg probe-positive strains, electronmicroscopy revealed the presence of fibrillar bundles which seem to mediate bacterial aggregation.


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