Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC) causes diarrhoea in children in developing countries. Many EPEC genes involved in virulence are contained within the locus of enterocyte effacement (LEE), a large pathogenicity island. One of the genes at the far righthand end of the LEE encodes EspF, an EPEC secreted protein of unknown function. EspF, like the other Esps, is a substrate for secretion by the type III secretory system. Previous studies found that an espF mutant behaved as wild type in assays of adherence, invasion, actin condensation and tyrosine phosphorylation. As EPEC can kill host cells, we tested esp gene mutants for host cell killing ability. The espF mutant was deficient in host cell killing despite having normal adherence. The addition of purified EspF to tissue culture medium did not cause any damage to host cells, but expression of espF in COS or HeLa cells caused cell death. The mode of cell death in cells transfected with espF appeared to be pure apoptosis. EspF appears to be an effector of host cell death in epithelial cells; its proline-rich structure suggests that it may act by binding to SH3 domains or EVH1 domains of host cell signalling proteins.