Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) are food-borne intestinal pathogens with a low infectious dose. Adhesion of some EHEC strains to epithelial cells is attributed, in part, to intimin, but other factors may be required for the intestinal colonizing ability of these bacteria. In order to identify additional adherence factors of EHEC, we generated transposon mutants of a clinical EHEC isolate of serotype O111:H-, which displayed high levels of adherence to cultured Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells. One mutant was markedly deficient in CHO cell adherence, human red blood cell agglutination and autoaggregation. Sequence analysis of the gene disrupted in this mutant revealed a 9669 bp novel chromosomal open reading frame (ORF), which was designated efa1, for EHEC factor for adherence. efa1 displayed 28% amino acid identity with the predicted product of a recently described ORF from the haemolysin-encoding plasmid of EHEC O157:H7. The amino termini of the putative products of these two genes exhibit up to 38% amino acid similarity to Clostridium difficile toxins A and B. efa1 occurred within a novel genetic locus, at least 15 kb in length, which featured a low G+C content, several insertion sequence homologues and a homologue of the Shigella flexneri enterotoxin ShET2. DNA probes prepared from different regions of efa1 hybridized with all of 116 strains of attaching-effacing E. coli (AEEC) of a variety of serotypes, including enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC) and EHEC, but with none of 91 non-AEEC strains. Nevertheless, efa1 was not required for the attachment-effacement phenotype, and the efa1 locus was not physically linked to the locus for enterocyte effacement (LEE) pathogenicity island, which is responsible for this phenotype in EPEC. These findings suggest that efa1 encodes a novel virulence-associated determinant of AEEC, which contributes to the adhesive capacity of these bacteria.