Sera from 30 patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) (16 with Crohn's disease (CD) and 14 with ulcerative colitis (UC) were assayed for the presence of antibodies against 159 Escherichia coli O-antigens and compared with sera from 16 matched control subjects. The majority of patients with IBD had agglutinating antibodies to a higher number of Escherichia coli O-antigens and in higher titres than the control group. The number of positive agglutinins was O-33 mean 13.8 in CD, O-26 mean 7.9 for UC, and O-7 mean 1.5 in controls. Eight patients with IBD and arthropathy had antibodies to fewer O-antigens (O-7 mean 3.2). The antibodies were in the IgG and IgM, in titres corresponding to original values. No specific O-serotypes were associated with IBD. Common serotypes, R-plasmid carrying serotypes, and those associated with shigella-like adult diarrhoea were detected. O14 was detected only in five patients and O119 in none. There was no correlation between the number of Escherichia coli agglutinins and the site and severity of the disease or type of therapy. It is suggested that the presence of the high numbers of Escherichia coli antibodies is secondary to the disease process and is unlikely to be causally involved in the pathogenesis of the disease, but may play a role in the perpetuation of the disease and in the extraintestinal complications.
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