Bacterial H antigens are specified by flagellin molecules, which constitute the flagellar filament. Escherichia coli 781-55 and E2987-73 are the type strains for H44 and H55 antigens, respectively. Unlike E. coli K-12, they possess two flagellin genes, fliC and fllA, on their chromosomes. However, they are monophasic, expressing exclusively the fllA genes, which specify the type antigens. In this study, the flagellin genes were cloned from these strains and their structure and expression were analyzed. It was found that the fliC genes encode apparently intact flagellin subunits but possess inefficient sigma28-dependent promoters, which may result in these genes being silent. The chromosomal locations of the fllA genes are approximately, but not exactly, identical with that of the phase-2 flagellin gene, fljB, of diphasic Salmonella strains. However, unlike the Salmonella fljB gene, the invertible H segment and the fljA gene responsible for the control of flagellar phase variation are both absent from the fllA loci. The fllA genes are highly homologous to the E. coli fliC gene but distantly related to the Salmonella fljB gene. These results suggest a hypothesis that the fllA genes may have emerged by an intra-species lateral transfer of the fliC gene. This hypothesis is further supported by the observation that the fllA genes are flanked by several IS elements and located within cryptic prophage elements.