Lactoferrin is an iron-binding protein found in human mucosal secretions such as milk. A variety of functions have been ascribed to this protein, it appears to contribute to antimicrobial host defense. Still its overall physiological role remains to be defined. We sought to study the role of recombinant human lactoferrin (rhLf) in Shigella infection. Invasion of epithelial cells is essential to the development of bacillary dysentery. Shigella flexneri 5 M90T, a virulent strain, was evaluated in the classic HeLa cell invasion model, in immunoblots, and by transmission electron microscopy, immunofluorescence, and deconvolved microscopy Bacteria not exposed to rhLf were used as controls. We found that rhLf decreased significantly the invasiveness of S. flexneri 5 M90T in a HeLa cell model. The immunoblot data showed that invasion plasmid antigen B (IpaB) was released from the bacteria during incubation with rhLf. Lactoferrin treatment did not directly dissociate the complex of IpaB and IpaC (IpaBC) once the complex had been formed. Furthermore, ferric iron had no effect on release of IpaB. Electron microscopy of rhLf-treated bacteria suggested a reduction in vacuolization of the HeLa cell cytoplasm and decreased number of bacteria within HeLa cells. At 40,000 x magnification the few rhLf-treated Shigella that invaded exhibited a dense ring completely surrounding them. Immunofluorescence and deconvolved microscopy suggested that rhLf-treated bacteria were completely surrounded by a thick layer of actin. The fact that two cell surface functions (invasion and actin-mediated movement) were deranged suggests that rhLf disrupts the integrity of the bacterial outer membrane in which virulence proteins are anchored. The mechanism by which rhLf impairs Shigella invasiveness may be relevant to other enteropathogens that share similar virulence strategies.