This study determined optimal conditions for experimental reproduction of colibacillosis by aerosol administration of avian pathogenic Escherichia coli to 2-to-4-wk-old broiler chickens. The basic model for reproducing disease was intranasal administration of approximately 10(4) mean embryo infectious dose of infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) followed by aerosol administration of an 02 or an 078 strain of E. coli in a Horsfall unit (100 ml of a suspension of 10(9) colony-forming units/ml over 40 min). Scores were assigned to groups of infected chickens on the basis of deaths; frequency and severity of lesions in the air sacs, liver and heart; and recovery of the challenge E. coli 6 days post-E. coli infection. An interval of 4 days between the IBV and E. coli challenges was best whether the chickens received the IBV at 8 or 20 days of age. Typically, 50%-80% of the chickens developed airsacculitis and 0 to 29% of the chickens developed pericarditis or perihepatitis, with little or no mortality. Escherichia coli alone resulted in no deaths and 0 to 20% airsacculitis, but these percentages increased to 0 to 5% and 52%-60% when the E. coli aerosol was administered through a cone-shaped chamber. Administration of IBV alone failed to induce lesions. Recovery of the challenge E. coli from chickens did not correlate well with lesions. On the basis of these data, administration of IBV to 20-day-old chickens followed 4 days later by exposure to an avian pathogenic E. coli reproduces avian colibacillosis with the low mortality, high percentage of airsacculitis, and low percentage of septicemic lesions characteristic of the conditions seen in the natural disease.