In Escherichia coli K-12, transcription of the ferric citrate transport genes fecABCDE is initiated by binding of diferric dicitrate to the outer membrane protein FecA which elicits a signaling cascade from the cell surface to the cytoplasm. The FecI sigma factor is only active in the presence of FecR, which transfers the signal across the cytoplasmic membrane. In other bacteria, fecIRA homologues control iron transport gene transcription by siderophores other than citrate. However, in most cases, the FecI homologues are active in the absence of the FecR homologues, which might function as anti-sigma factors. Since not all E. coli strains contain a fec system, we determined the occurrence of fec genes in selected Enterobacteriaceae and the dependence of FecI activity on FecR. Incomplete FecIRA systems were chromosomally encoded in Enterobacter aerogenes strains and plasmid-encoded in K. pneumoniae. E. coli B, Photorhabdus luminescens and one of three Klebsiella pneumoniae strains had a functional FecIRA regulatory system as in E. coli K-12. The cytoplasmic N-terminal FecR fragments caused constitutive FecI activity in the absence of ferric citrate. The PCR-generated mutant FecI(D40G) was inactive and FecI(S15P) was partially active. FecR of E. coli K-12 activated FecI of all tested strains except FecI encoded on the virulence plasmid pLVPK of K. pneumoniae, which differed from E. coli K-12 FecI by having mutations in region 4, which is important for interaction with FecR. The C-terminally truncated FecR homologue of pLVPK was inactive. pLVPK-encoded FecA contains a 38-residue sequence in front of the signal sequence that did not prevent processing and proper integration of FecA into the outer membrane of E. coli and lacks the signaling sequence required for transcription initiation of the fec transport genes, making it induction-incompetent but transport-competent. The evidence indicates that fecIRABCDE genes are acquired by horizontal DNA transfer and can undergo debilitating mutations.