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AIMS: The pathogenic potential of Arcobacter butzleri isolates was investigated by detecting the presence of putative virulence genes and analysing the adhesive and invasive capabilities in cell cultures of human cell lines. METHODS AND RESULTS: The presence of 10 putative virulence genes in 52 A. butzleri isolates was determined by PCR. The genes ciaB, mviN, pldA, tlyA, cj1349 and cadF were detected in all, while irgA (15 %), iroE (60 %), hecB (44 %) and hecA (13 %) were detected only in few A. butzleri isolates. On HT-29 cells, four out of six isolates adhered and three of them were able to invade, while all six isolates adhered and invaded Caco-2 cells with higher degrees. The genes ciaB, cadF and cj1349 of all six isolates were sequenced but no considerable changes of the amino acids in putative functional domains were observed. CONCLUSION: Selected A. butzleri isolates adhere to and invade HT-29 and Caco-2 cells, which emphasize their human pathogenic potential. The efficiency of invasion depends on the eukaryotic cell line and individual bacterial strain used. We could not show any functional correlation between the amino acid sequence of CadF, CiaB or Cj1349 and the adhesive and invasive phenotype. SIGNIFICANCE AND IMPACT OF STUDY: We have shown that some A. butzleri strains invade various cell lines. This underlines their pathogenic potential and hints at their relevance in human disease. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.