A new Escherichia coli virulent clonal group, O45:K1, belonging to the highly virulent subgroup B2(1) was recently identified in France, where it accounts for one-third of E. coli neonatal meningitis cases. Here we describe the sequence, epidemiology and function of the large plasmid harbored by strain S88, which is representative of the O45:K1 clonal group. Plasmid pS88 is 133,853 bp long and contains 144 protein-coding genes. It harbors three different iron uptake systems (aerobactin, salmochelin, and the sitABCD genes) and other putative virulence genes (iss, etsABC, ompT(P), and hlyF). The pS88 sequence is composed of several gene blocks homologous to avian pathogenic E. coli plasmids pAPEC-O2-ColV and pAPEC-O1-ColBM. PCR amplification of 11 open reading frames scattered throughout the plasmid was used to investigate the distribution of pS88 and showed that a pS88-like plasmid is present in other meningitis clonal groups such as O18:K1, O1:K1, and O83:K1. A pS88-like plasmid was also found in avian pathogenic strains and human urosepsis strains belonging to subgroup B2(1). A variant of S88 cured of its plasmid displayed a marked loss of virulence relative to the wild-type strain in a neonatal rat model, with bacteremia more than 2 log CFU/ml lower. The salmochelin siderophore, a known meningovirulence factor, could not alone explain the plasmid's contribution to virulence, as a salmochelin mutant displayed only a minor fall in bacteremia (0.9 log CFU/ml). Thus, pS88 is a major virulence determinant related to avian pathogenic plasmids that has spread not only through meningitis clonal groups but also human urosepsis and avian pathogenic strains.