The importance of adhesins in the pathogenicity of several bacteria resulted in studies on their usefulness in vaccines. In this study, the gene of the F4(K88)-fimbrial adhesin FaeG of the pathogenic enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) strain GIS26 was cloned in the pET30Ek-LIC vector and expressed with an N-terminal His- and S-tag in the cytoplasm of BL21(DE3). Recombinant FaeG (rFaeG) subunits were isolated from insoluble cytoplasmic aggregates and refolded into a native-like F4 receptor (F4R)-binding conformation. Indeed, the presence of conformational epitopes was shown by ELISA and the ability to bind the F4R was observed by inhibiting the adhesion of F4(+) ETEC to F4R(+) villi with increasing concentrations of native-like refolded rFaeG subunits. The rFaeG subunits appear as monomers, whereas the purified F4 fimbriae are multimers. Oral immunization of newly weaned piglets with native-like rFaeG induced a mucosal and systemic F4-specific immune response, significantly reducing F4(+) E. coli excretion from 2 till 5 days following challenge infection. However, improvement of stability and immunogenicity of rFaeG is necessary since a higher F4-specific response was obtained following immunization with purified F4 fimbriae. Furthermore, the N-terminal fusion of a His- and S-tag was not detrimental for binding the F4R, supporting the use of FaeG as mucosal carrier. In conclusion, oral immunization with a recombinant fimbrial adhesin subunit of Escherichia coli induces a mucosal and systemic fimbriae-specific immune response. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.