Escherichia coli that exhibit the aggregative pattern of adherence to HEp-2 cells (enteroadherent-aggregative E. coli [EA-AggEC]) have been epidemiologically incriminated as a cause of diarrhea. We undertook a preliminary microbiological and pathogenetic characterization of 42 isolates of this putative pathogen. The strains were negative by tests with DNA probes for enteropathogenic, enterotoxigenic, enteroinvasive, and enterohemorrhagic E. coli and, by serotype, did not fit these categories. Thirty-nine of 42 strains had a 55-65-megadalton plasmid; many shared DNA homology. With one representative strain, plasmid transfer was accompanied by transfer of smooth lipopolysaccharide, fimbriae expression, and the aggregative property. EA-AggEC caused characteristic lesions in rabbit and rat ileal loops. The intestinal lesions and (Shiga-like) limb paralysis and death in rabbits inoculated with live organisms suggest toxin involvement; assays for Shiga-like toxins were negative. These preliminary results support the contention that EA-AggEC may represent a distinct category of diarrheagenic E. coli.