[en] Recent studies by DNA-DNA hybridisation assays conducted on a large collection of Escherichia coli strains isolated from chickens, ducks and turkeys suffering from colibacillosis, showed that 76% of the strains were negative for the presence of the pap gene cluster. The objective of this paper was to study the virulence associated with the avian E. coli strains negative for the P fimbriae, but carrying the f17 or the afa-8 gene cluster coding for adhesins associated with strains pathogenic for mammals. Three strains carrying the f17 fimbriae and three carrying the afa-8 adhesin-encoding gene cluster were studied in three in vivo experimental models of avian colibacillosis: subcutaneous inoculation of 1-day-old chicks, inoculation of specific-pathogen-free (SPF) chickens via the intra-thoracic air sac, and intra-tracheal inoculation of axenic chickens. The results showed that the six P-negative E. coli isolates carrying the f17 or the afa-8 gene cluster were lethal for 1-day-old chicks. They were also able to reproduce clinical signs and lesions of colibacillosis (aerosacculitis, pericarditis, perihepathitis), with bacteraemia and septicaemia, in SPF chickens inoculated via the thoracic air sacs as well as in axenic chickens inoculated by the intra-tracheal route. Further studies with f17 and afa-8 allelic mutants constructed by disruption must be performed to confirm a role of F17 fimbrial and Afa-VIII afimbrial adhesins in the pathogenesis of avian colibacillosis. (C) 2004 Elsevier SAS. All rights reserved.