BACKGROUNDSalmonella enterica is a facultative intracellular pathogen of worldwide importance. Over 2,500 serovars exist and infections in humans and animals may produce a spectrum of symptoms from enteritis to typhoid depending on serovar- and host-specific factors. S. Enteritidis is the most prevalent non-typhoidal serovar isolated from humans with acute diarrhoeal illness in many countries. Human infections are frequently associated with direct or indirect contact with contaminated poultry meat or eggs owing to the ability of the organism to persist in the avian intestinal and reproductive tract. The molecular mechanisms underlying colonisation of poultry by S. Enteritidis are ill-defined. Targeted and genome-wide mutagenesis of S. Typhimurium has revealed conserved and host-specific roles for selected fimbriae in intestinal colonisation of different hosts. Here we report the first systematic analysis of each chromosomally-encoded major fimbrial subunit of S. Enteritidis in intestinal colonisation of chickens.RESULTSThe repertoire, organisation and sequence of the fimbrial operons within members of S. enterica were compared. No single fimbrial locus could be correlated with the differential virulence and host range of serovars by comparison of available genome sequences. Fimbrial operons were highly conserved among serovars in respect of gene number, order and sequence, with the exception of safA. Thirteen predicted major fimbrial subunit genes were separately inactivated by lambda Red recombinase-mediated linear recombination followed by P22/int transduction. The magnitude and duration of intestinal colonisation by mutant and parent strains was measured after oral inoculation of out-bred chickens. Whilst the majority of S. Enteritidis major fimbrial subunit genes played no significant role in colonisation of the avian intestines, mutations affecting pegA in two different S. Enteritidis strains produced statistically significant attenuation. Plasmid-mediated trans-complementation partially restored the colonisation phenotype.CONCLUSIONWe describe the fimbrial gene repertoire of the predominant non-typhoidal S. enterica serovar affecting humans and the role played by each predicted major fimbrial subunit in intestinal colonisation of the primary reservoir. Our data support a role for PegA in the colonisation of poultry by S. Enteritidis and aid the design of improved vaccines.