Previously uncultured nitrite-oxidizing bacteria affiliated to the genus Nitrospira have for the first time been successfully enriched from activated sludge from a municipal wastewater treatment plant. During the enrichment procedure, the abundance of the Nitrospira-like bacteria increased to approximately 86% of the total bacterial population. This high degree of purification was achieved by a novel enrichment protocol, which exploits physiological features of Nitrospira-like bacteria and includes the selective repression of coexisting Nitrobacter cells and heterotrophic contaminants by application of ampicillin in a final concentration of 50 microg ml(-1). The enrichment process was monitored by electron microscopy, fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) with rRNA-targeted probes and fatty acid profiling. Phylogenetic analysis of 16S rRNA gene sequences revealed that the enriched bacteria represent a novel Nitrospira species closely related to uncultured Nitrospira-like bacteria previously found in wastewater treatment plants and nitrifying bioreactors. The enriched strain is provisionally classified as 'Candidatus Nitrospira defluvii'.