The aim of this study was to assess the usefulness of a multiplex PCR assay targeting the aat, aaiA and astA genes for the detection of typical and atypical enteroaggregative Escherichia coli (EAEC) in bacterial cultures from faecal samples from patients with community-acquired diarrhoea. The isolates harbouring these genes were also tested using the HEp-2 cell-adhesion assay to clarify their EAEC status, aat, aai or astA was found in E. coli faecal isolates from 39 (7-8%) of 500 patients, and 20 of these strains adhered to HEp-2 cells in a pattern characteristic of EAEC. Eight isolates carrying the aai or astA gene but not the aaf gene were shown to be HEp-2 cell test positive, although 12 strains with this genotype were HEp-2 cell test negative. Using the HEp-2 adhesion assay as the gold standard, the addition of primers detecting aaiA and astA to the aaf PCR increased the number of EAEC isolates detected, but identified strains of E. coli that were not EAEC. The variety of genotypes exhibiting aggregative adherence highlights the problems associated with developing a molecular diagnostic test for EAEC. This PCR assay detects a variety of strains exhibiting characteristics of the EAEC group, making it a useful tool for identifying both typical and atypical EAEC.