Bacterial factors associated with long-term persistence in the colon have not been defined. Individual Escherichia coli strains in the colonic flora of 13 schoolgirls with asymptomatic bacteriuria were identified by electromorphic typing of chromosomally encoded enzymes and defined as resident or transient. The strains were characterized as to serotype, receptor specificity, and adherence to the human colonic epithelial cell line HT-29. Colonic resident strains expressed P fimbriae, adhered to colonic epithelial cells via a mannose-resistant mechanism, and expressed the uropathogenic serotypes O1, O2, O6, O7, O18, O25, or O75 more often than did the transient strains, which were often nontypeable. The serotype and hemagglutination pattern were generally retained during intestinal carriage, in contrast to the loss of such properties upon prolonged colonization of the urinary tract. P fimbriae with Gal alpha 1----4Gal beta-specific adherence may, in fact, have evolved to increase persistence in the colon.