Enteric bacteria with a demonstrable or potential ability to form attaching-effacing lesions, so-called attaching-effacing (AE) bacteria, have been found in the intestinal tracts of a wide variety of warm-blooded animal species, including man. In some host species, for example cattle, pigs, rabbits and human beings, attaching-effacing Escherichia coli (AEEC) have an established role as enteropathogens. In other host species, AE bacteria are of less certain significance. With continuing advances in the detection and typing of AE strains, the importance of these bacteria for many hosts is likely to become clearer. The pathogenic effects of AE bacteria result from adhesion to the intestinal mucosa by a variety of mechanisms, culminating in the formation of the characteristic intimate adhesion of the AE lesion. The ability to induce AE lesions is mediated by the co-ordinated expression of some 40 bacterial genes organized within a so-called pathogenicity island, known as the "Locus for Enterocyte Effacement". It is also believed that the production of bacterial toxins, principally Vero toxins, is a significant virulence factor for some AEEC strains. Recent areas of research into AE bacteria include: the use of Citrobacter rodentium to model human AEEC disease; quorum-sensing mechanisms used by AEEC to modulate virulence gene expression; and the potential role of adhesion in the persistent colonization of the intestine by AE bacteria. This review of AE bacteria covers their molecular biology, their occurrence in various animal species, and the diagnosis, pathology and clinical aspects of animal diseases with which they are associated. Reference is made to human pathogens where appropriate. The focus is mainly on natural colonization and disease, but complementary experimental data are also included.