Escherichia coli is the leading cause of urinary tract infections (UTIs). Despite the association of numerous bacterial factors with uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC), few such factors have been proved to be required for UTI in animal models. Previous investigations of urovirulence factors have relied on prior identification of phenotypic characteristics. We used signature-tagged mutagenesis (STM) in an unbiased effort to identify genes that are essential for UPEC survival within the murine urinary tract. A library of 2049 transposon mutants of the prototypic UPEC strain CFT073 was constructed using mini-Tn5km2 carrying 92 unique tags and screened in a murine model of ascending UTI. After initial screening followed by confirmation in co-infection experiments, 19 survival-defective mutants were identified. These mutants were recovered in numbers 101- to 106-fold less than the wild type in the bladder, kidneys or urine or at more than one site. The transposon junctions from each attenuated mutant were sequenced and analysed. Mutations were found in: (i) the type 1 fimbrial operon; (ii) genes involved in the biosyn-thesis of extracellular polysaccharides including group I capsule, group II capsule and enterobacterial common antigen; (iii) genes involved in metabolic pathways; and (iv) genes with unknown function. Five of the genes identified are absent from the genome of the E. coli K-12 strain. Mutations in type 1 fimbrial genes resulted in severely attenuated colonization, even in the case of a mutant with an insertion upstream of the fim operon that affected the rate of fimbrial switching from the 'off' to the 'on' phase. Three mutants had insertions in a new type II capsule biosynthesis locus on a pathogenicity island and were impaired in the production of capsule in vivo. An additional mutant with an insertion in wecE was unable to synthesize enterobacterial common antigen. These results confirm the pre-eminence of type 1 fimbriae, establish the importance of extracellular polysaccharides in the pathogenesis of UTI and identify new urovirulence determinants.