The molecular biology and epidemiology of 150 avian pathogenic Escherichia coli strains (APEC) isolated from septicemic poultry in Germany was investigated by serotyping, pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), and polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Only 49.6% of the isolates could be grouped to serogroups O1, O2, and O78. Macrorestriction analyses data revealed two large clonal groups (clusters I and II) among the APEC strains with a similarity of 60.9% to each other. An association between restriction pattern and serogroup or origin of the strains was only present in a few subgroups of each clusters I and II, but was not evident. In contrast, our data revealed distinct combinations of virulence-associated genes in that 51.2% of the O2-strains harboured a combination of the genes fyuA, irp2, iucD, tsh, vat, fimC, and colV and 36.4% of the O78-strains possessed the same gene combination with exception of vat. With 34 different gene combinations the non-O1, -O2, -O78 isolates revealed a higher variability in their virulence gene pattern than O1-, O2-, and O78-strains with 6, 13, and 9 patterns, respectively. Our data indicate only a limited association between the virulence gene pattern and the serogroup of APEC strains and question the sensitivity of O-typing for APEC identification without the application of further diagnostic tools. Although a limited number of APEC clones exist, horizontal gene transfer seems to be common in these pathogens. These findings strengthen further research on the population structure of APEC and may be the reason for the lack of clear definition of this common E. coli pathotype.