Several studies suggest that the expression of type 1 fimbriae is involved in the virulence of Escherichia coli in chickens, by promoting adhesion of bacteria to the respiratory tract, which is most probably the first step to occur in the infection, and by interacting with the immune response. In order to determine to what extent type 1 fimbriae were involved in the pathogenic process, the fim cluster of an avian pathogenic strain of E. coli, MT78 (O2:K1:H+), was modified in vitro and reintroduced in the parent strain via allele exchange using suicide vector pCVD442. The mutant strain thus generated (DM34) had its entire fim cluster removed. Its pathogenic properties were compared to those of the parent strain in an experimental reproduction of avain colibacillosis in 15-day-old chickens, after primary infection with infectious bronchitis virus followed by intratracheal inoculation of the challenge strain. In specific-pathogen-free (SPF) animals, mutant DM34 was less pathogenic than the parent strain and colonized the lungs of infected animals to a lower level. In germ-free chickens, although DM34 was less pathogenic than MT78 according to the differences in weight gains, it colonized the trachea, lungs and internal organs to the same extent as MT78. Our results suggest that, whereas type 1 fimbriae are not strictly required in colonization of the respiratory tract of germ-free chickens, they might be important in establishing a bacterial population in the lungs of SPF animals. The difference regularly observed in weight gains between mutant- and wild-type-inoculated chickens reflects a decreased pathogenicity of the fim- mutant. However, the isolation of E. coli in target organs and the observation of colibacillosis symptoms and lesions in mutant-inoculated chickens suggest that type 1 fimbriae by themselves play a limited role in pathogenicity.