Mucosal pathogens differ from normal flora constituents in that they provoke a host response that upsets mucosal integrity. We investigated whether the elaboration of discrete adherence factors is sufficient to break the inertia of the mucosal barrier. PapG-mediated adherence was selected as an example, because P fimbrial expression characterizes uropathogenic Escherichia coli and because adherence starts the attack on the mucosal barrier. Patients were inoculated intravesically with transformed nonvirulent E. coli strains expressing functional P fimbriae (E. coli pap(+)) or mutant fimbriae lacking the adhesin (E. coli Delta papG). E. coli pap(+) was shown to activate the innate host response, and adherent gfp(+) bacteria were observed on excreted uroepithelial cells. E. coli Delta papG failed to trigger a response and was nonadhesive. We conclude that PapG-mediated adherence breaks mucosal inertia in the human urinary tract by triggering innate immunity and propose that this activation step differentiates asymptomatic carriage from infection.