Curli organelles are expressed by commensal Escherichia coli K12 and by Salmonella typhimurium at temperatures <37 degrees C, which bind serum proteins and activate the contact-phase system in vitro. This study demonstrates, by means of an anti-CsgA (curli major subunit) antibody, that a significant fraction of E. coli isolates (24 of 46) from human blood cultures produce curli at 37 degrees C in vitro. Serum samples from 12 convalescent patients with sepsis, but not serum from healthy controls, contained antibodies against CsgA (n=12). This study further demonstrates that a curli-expressing E. coli strain and a noncurliated mutant secreting soluble CsgA induce significantly (P<.05) higher levels of proinflammatory cytokines (tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin [IL]-6, and IL-8) in human macrophages differentiated from THP-1 cells. These data, therefore, provide direct evidence that curli are expressed in vivo in human sepsis and suggest a possible role for curli and CsgA in the induction of proinflammatory cytokines during E. coli sepsis.