Bovine septicemic Escherichia coli 31A agglutinates bovine, rabbit, and human erythrocytes and adheres in vitro to the brush border of bovine or ovine intestinal epithelial cells and to the human colon carcinoma Caco-2 cell line. The adhesion and hemagglutination of E. coli 31A are mediated by a chromosome-encoded fimbrial adhesin serologically distinct from known fimbrial adhesins found in enterotoxigenic and septicemic bovine E. coli strains. By electron microscopy studies the fimbriae designated 20K were observed as fine flexible filaments (diameter, 3 nm) and the purified major fimbrial subunit appeared with an apparent molecular mass of 20,000 Da. Western blot (immunoblot) analysis, N-terminal sequence alignment, and amino acid composition revealed a high homology with the N-acetyl-D-glcosamine-specific G fimbria of human uropathogenic E. coli and with fimbriae belonging to the F17 family produced by bovine enterotoxigenic and invasive E. coli strains. Immunological study revealed that 20K fimbria was closely related to G fimbria and represents a serological variant of F17 fimbria. Hemagglutination and adhesion inhibition assays demonstrated that 20K, G, and F17 fimbriae bind to an N-acetyl-D-glucosamine-containing receptor, but each probably binds to different oligosaccharide sequences or different receptors on host tissues. 20K fimbriae were produced by a limited group of clonally related strains with the unusual m-inositol-positive phenotype and appeared highly associated with the plasmid-mediated virulence factor. An examination of natural occurrence of 20K fimbriae among a large collection of human and animal pathogenic E. coli showed that 20K fimbria is the prominent adhesin among bovine septicemic E. coli isolated from European countries.