Escherichia coli remains an important aetiological agent of infantile diarrhoea in Nicaragua. However, little is known about whether there is a high prevalence of endemic strains or whether infection is due to the epidemic spread of virulent clones. This study was undertaken to determine the diversity and distribution of clonal groups in a population of intestinal E. coli isolated from the faeces of children from León, Nicaragua, with (n=381) and without (n=145) diarrhoea, between March 2005 and September 2006. All samples had been screened previously for the presence of diarrhoeagenic E. coli (DEC) markers by multiplex PCR. From each sample, 8 E. coli colonies (where available) were analysed by biochemical fingerprinting (PhP-RE system), yielding a total of 4009 tested isolates. On average, three different biochemical phenotypes (BPTs) were found among the eight colonies analysed from each sample. The total diversity, measured as Simpson's diversity index (Di), was 0.97 among all 4009 isolates studied. Cluster analysis of data from all 4009 isolates revealed 24 common BPTs (identified in at least 1 % of the isolates) and 234 less common BPTs. Similar Di values were obtained among isolates from infants with and without diarrhoea, indicating that no widespread outbreak of DEC had occurred. Moreover, among samples that were positive for the DEC types enteroaggregative E. coli, enteropathogenic E. coli and enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC) carrying the eltB gene, the diversities were almost as high as among non-DEC samples, whereas samples positive for ETEC carrying estA, enteroinvasive E. coli and enterohaemorrhagic E. coli showed lower diversities, indicating the prevalence of virulent clonal groups among these samples. The PhenePlate patterns of the 24 common BPTs identified here were compared with those obtained from E. coli isolated in a cohort infant study performed in 1991-1992 in the same area. Only 4 % of the isolates from the 1990s were similar to any of the common BPTs found in the present study.