Intestinal inflammation in Crohn's disease (CD) may be complicated by the occurrence of strictures and fistulae. The pathogenesis of fistula formation is unknown. We therefore wanted to determine whether mechanical factors might contribute to the development of fistulae. Furthermore, we tried to define the path of internal fistulae through the muscular layer. For this purpose, surgical resection specimens from 42 consecutive patients with CD were prospectively studied. In gross examination the whole bowel was cut into circumferential cross sections 0.3 cm thick. Abnormal areas were histologically examined. Strictures were found in 38 patients (90.5%), and fistulae were observed in 27 (64.3%) patients. In 11 (40.7%) specimens fistulae were found within a stricture, in 15 (55.6%) at the proximal end, and in 1 (3.7%) no stricture was found. In 7 (25.9%) cases with fistulae, herniated mucosa was found within the muscularis propria or the subserosa. In 7 (25.9%) cases a blood vessel was identified near a fistula traversing the muscularis propria. From these findings we conclude that that mechanical factors may contribute to fistula formation. This is further supported by the fact that fistulae appear to traverse the muscular layer along piercing vessels.