Intestinal immune cells are less reactive than those in the peripheral blood; however, such cells from patients with Crohn's disease may be more responsive to bacterial products. Our study examined if nonpathogenic bacteria or lipopolysaccharide (LPS), can affect epithelial function in the presence of monocytes/macrophages. Lamina propria mononuclear cells (LPMCs) and peripheral blood monocytes (PBMs) were obtained from patients with Crohn's disease and control patients. Filter-grown T84 epithelial monolayers were co-cultured with nonactivated or LPS-activated LPMCs or PBMs for 48 hours. Epithelial secretory [baseline short-circuit current (Isc) and DeltaIsc to forskolin] and barrier (transepithelial electrical resistance) parameters were measured in Ussing chambers. LPS-activated PBMs from both controls and patients with Crohn's disease significantly increased Isc ( approximately 300%) and reduced transepithelial electrical resistance ( approximately 40%). Epithelial function was not altered after co-culture with control LPMCs +/- LPS. However, LPMCs from patients with Crohn's disease spontaneously secreted tumor necrosis factor-alpha, and induced epithelial changes similar to those produced by LPS-activated PBMs. Co-culture with control Escherichia coli and PBMs induced comparable changes in epithelial physiology, which were abrogated by anti-tumor necrosis factor-alpha antibody. We conclude that LPMCs of patients with Crohn's disease are spontaneously activated, possibly by gram-negative luminal bacteria, and can directly cause significant alterations in epithelial ion transport and barrier functions.