Besides Shiga toxins (Stx), Stx-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) harbour several other putative virulence factors, including the serine protease EspP. We have investigated 214 STEC strains from Austria belonging to 61 different serotypes from humans, animals, and food for the presence of this serine protease gene and have determined the espP subtypes and their association with clinical outcome. espP was detected in 121 (57%) out of 214 strains. Sixty-five of 68 strains (96%) of non-sorbitol-fermenting (NSF) O157:H7/NM (NM, non-motile) were positive for espP, while none of 8 SF E. coli O157:NM isolates contained this gene. All 9 strains of serotype O145:NM and 17 of 21 strains (81%) of serotype O26:H11/NM were positive for espP. Nineteen STEC serogroups including O103 and O111 serogroups--considered to be highly pathogenic--were completely negative for espP. Only 5 of 12 strains isolated from patients suffering from haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) were espP-positive (all serogroup NSF O157) as well as 28 of 39 strains from patients with bloody diarrhoea, 40 of 63 strains from patients with non-bloody diarrhoea, and 15 of 19 strains from asymptomatic patients. In O157:H7/NM, O26:H11/NM, and O145:NM only espP subtype alpha was found, whereas in most of the other non-O157 serogroups, subtypes beta and gamma were found. Subtype delta was not detected in our strain collection. Regarding the espP subtypes, only subtype alpha, but not beta and gamma, were found in HUS patients. Moreover, we could demonstrate that espP, and in particular subtype alpha, is associated with highly pathogenic serogroups.