We report the complete nucleotide sequence and genetic organization of the Vat-encoding pathogenicity island (PAI) of avian pathogenic Escherichia coli strain Ec222. The 22,139-bp PAI is situated adjacent to the 3' terminus of the thrW tRNA gene, has a G+C content of 41.2%, and includes a bacteriophage SfII integrase gene, mobile genetic elements, two open reading frames with products exhibiting sequence similarity to known proteins, and several other open reading frames of unknown function. The PAI encodes an autotransporter protein, Vat (vacuolating autotransporter toxin), which induces the formation of intracellular vacuoles resulting in cytotoxic effects similar to those caused by the VacA toxin from Helicobacter pylori. The predicted 148.3-kDa protein product possesses the three domains that are typical of serine protease autotransporters of Enterobacteriaceae: an N-terminal signal sequence of 55 amino acids, a 111.8-kDa passenger domain containing a modified serine protease site (ATSGSG), and a C-terminal outer membrane translocator of 30.5 kDa. Vat has 75% protein homology with the hemagglutinin Tsh, an autotransporter of avian pathogenic E. coli. A vat deletion mutant of Ec222 showed no virulence in respiratory and cellulitis infection models of disease in broiler chickens. We conclude that the newly described PAI and Vat may be involved in the pathogenicity of avian septicemic E. coli strain Ec222 and other avian pathogenic E. coli strains.