F4 or K88 fimbriae are long filamentous polymeric surface proteins of enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC), consisting of so-called major (FaeG) and minor (FaeF, FaeH, FaeC, and probably FaeI) subunits. Several serotypes of F4 have been described, namely F4ab, F4ac, and F4ad. The F4 fimbriae allow the microorganisms to adhere to F4-specific receptors present on brush borders of villous enterocytes and consequently to colonize the small intestine. Such ETEC infections are responsible for diarrhea and mortality in neonatal and recently weaned pigs. In this review emphasis is put on the morphology, genetic configuration, and biosynthesis of F4 fimbriae. Furthermore, the localization of the different a, b, c, and d epitopes, and the localization of the receptor binding site on the FaeG major subunit of F4 get ample attention. Subsequently, the F4-specific receptors are discussed. When the three variants of F4 (F4ab, F4ac, and F4ad) are considered, six porcine phenotypes can be distinguished with regard to the brush border adhesiveness: phenotype A binds all three variants, phenotype B binds F4ab and F4ac, phenotype C binds F4ab and F4ad, phenotype D binds F4ad, phenotype E binds none of the variants, and phenotype F binds F4ab. The following receptor model is described: receptor bcd is found in phenotype A pigs, receptor bc is found in phenotype A and B pigs, receptor d is found in phenotype C and D pigs, and receptor b is found in phenotype F pigs. Furthermore, the characterization of the different receptors is described in which the bcd receptor is proposed as collection of glycoproteins with molecular masses ranging from 45 to 70 kDa, the bc receptor as two glycoproteins with molecular masses of 210 an 240 kDa, respectively, the b receptor as a glycoprotein of 74 kDa, and the d receptor as a glycosphingolipid with unknown molecular mass. Finally, the importance of F4 fimbriae and their receptors in the study of mucosal immunity in pigs is discussed. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.