Subtyping of pathogenic Escherichia coli strains using flagellar (H)-antigens: serotyping versus fliC polymorphisms

Int J Med Microbiol. 2003 Feb;292(7-8):477-86. doi: 10.1078/1438-4221-00226.


Serotyping of O- and H-antigens is regarded as the gold standard in classification of E. coli for taxonomic and epidemiological purposes similar to the Kaufmann-White scheme for Salmonella enterica. Molecular methods to replace or to support the serotyping have been applied recently. Using the molecular polymorphism of the flagella (H-antigen) gene fliC, more than 220 E. coli strains derived from the E. coli reference collection for O- and H-antigens (The International Escherichia and Klebsiella Centre (WHO)) and from clinical origins have been characterised and a reproducible and clear cut classification with very good correlation to serotyping was found. Only some of the H-antigens have revealed multiple fliC classes and vice versa only rarely some of the fliC classes belong to various H-antigen groups. Since also H-antigen-negative and H-antigen non-typeable strains subjected to fliC classification could be typed properly, it is recommended here to use this rapid approach to classify E. coli under routine conditions rather than using classical serotyping. However, scrotyping--in particular using hyperimmune rabbit sera--will remain the gold standard and the task of Reference Centres only, e.g. for defining novel H-antigen types.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Bacterial / immunology*
  • Bacterial Typing Techniques*
  • Escherichia coli / classification*
  • Escherichia coli / pathogenicity
  • Escherichia coli Infections / microbiology
  • Flagellin / genetics*
  • Flagellin / immunology
  • Humans
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length
  • Serotyping


  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • H antigen
  • Flagellin