Phylogenetic relationships of 69 neonatal meningitis Escherichia coli strains isolated worldwide were studied. Restriction fragment length polymorphism of rrn operons (rrn RFLP) in these isolates was compared with that of the 72 strains of the ECOR reference collection. Distributions of K1 antigen, of polymerase chain reaction-detected ibe10 gene, pap, afa, sfa/foc, hly, and aer operons, and of a 14.9-kb rrn-containing HindIII fragment previously associated with neonatal meningitis were compared. Oligoclonality was observed for the meningitis strains. Factorial analysis of correspondence on the rrn RFLP data showed a frequency gradient of meningitis strains from the phylogenetic B2 group (68%) to the A group (6%), via the D and B1 groups (26%). The distribution of the virulence determinants argues for their horizontal transfer during the evolution of E. coli. Analysis of the status of some neonates further suggests that neonatal meningitis results from a balance between bacterial genes of virulence and host factors.