Since postnatal development of the gastrointestinal tract has an important effect on its microbial flora and may influence the types of intestinal infections, we examined the effect of age on bacterial adherence to intestinal epithelial cells. Radiolabeled bacteria were incubated with guinea pig enterocytes released by treating loops of the intestine with solutions containing EDTA, dithiothreitol, and citrate. Nonbound bacteria were separated from intestinal cells by sedimentation on a Percoll gradient. The colonic cells avidly bound Shigella flexneri(64 bacteria per cell), Escherichia coli0124 (59), and E. coli 0128 (53). The adherence process was Ca2+and temperature dependent, was inhibited by fucose, glucose, and mannose, and was shown to be mediated by a carbohydrate-binding protein (lectin) on the colonic cells. Adherence of these bacteria to intestinal cells of newborn animals was only 15- 25% of the adherence to adult animal cells and increased gradually, reaching adult values at about 2 weeks of age. The lectin activity, which was determined by agglutination of bacteria, was secreted with the colonic mucus. It was undetectable in the newborn animal, appeared gradually with age, and its titer correlated with the adherent capability of the colonic cells.E. coli0128 was the only one of the bacteria tested which significantly adhered to the ileum (19 bacteria per cell) in a process inhibited by mannose. This adherence was mediated by a mannose-sensitive lectin in the bacterial pili, and not on the intestinal cells. The postnatal age had no effect on the adherence to the ileum; the newborn animal had the same adherence capability as the adult one. Good correlation was found between the adherence to the suspended intestinal cells and the adherence to intact intestinal surfaces or the in vivoadherence to intestinal loops.These patterns of bacterial adherence can be important in the neonatal microbial colonization of the intestinal tract, and can play a role in the types of intestinal infections during the neonatal period and infancy.