EPEC adherence factor (EAF) plasmids from three strains of enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC) - E2347/69 (O127:H6), E20517 (O111:H2) and E24582 (O142:H6) - were examined. The EAF plasmids were all marked with ampicillin resistance by transposition of Tn801 to give pDEP1, pDEP2 and pDEP11, respectively. All three plasmids showed incompatibility with an FIme and an FIV plasmid and had some similarity in restriction enzyme digest patterns. Plasmid pDEP1 differed from pDEP2 and pDEP11 in being autotransferring and fertility-inhibition positive. An EAF probe consisting of a 1 kb BamHI-SalI restriction endonuclease fragment of the prototype EAF-associated plasmid pMAR2 hybridized to similar-sized SalI-BamHI fragments of pDEP1 and pDEP11 but to a different-sized fragment of plasmid pDEP2. Loss of the EAF plasmids from EPEC strains resulted in a marked reduction in the ability of these strains to adhere to HEp-2 cells. The EAF-plasmid-negative variants did not express a 94 kDa outer-membrane protein (OMP). When these EAF plasmids were reintroduced into EAF-plasmid-negative EPEC strains a high level of adherence equivalent to that of the parent EPEC strains was restored and a 94 kDa OMP was usually expressed. However, when EAF plasmids were transferred into E. coli K12 or non-EPEC E. coli the host strains either did not adhere or adhered poorly to the HEp-2 cells. These transconjugants did not express a 94 kDa OMP.