Uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC), the principal cause of urinary tract infection in women, colonizes the gut as well as the genitourinary tract. Studies of mice inoculated with UTI89, a sequenced isolate, have revealed a complex life cycle that includes formation of intracellular bacterial communities (IBCs) in bladder urothelial cells. To understand how UPEC adapts to life in IBCs, we have used GeneChips and/or quantitative reverse transcriptase PCR to study UTI89 recovered from the distal gut of gnotobiotic mice and from IBCs harvested by laser capture microdissection from the bladder urothelium of infected C3H/HeJ female mice. Host responses were characterized in laser capture microdissected urothelial cells that do or do not contain IBCs. The results reveal components of ferric iron acquisition systems in UTI89 that are expressed at significantly higher levels in IBCs compared with the intestine, including the hemin receptor chuA (1,390 +/- 188-fold). Localized urothelial responses to IBCs help oppose bacterial salvage of host cell iron (e.g. up-regulation of Tfrc (transferrin receptor) and Lcn2 (lipocalin 2)), facilitate glucose import (e.g. Hk2 (hexokinase 2)), and maintain epithelial structural integrity (e.g. Ivl (involucrin) and Sbsn (suprabasin)). DeltachuA mutants produce significantly smaller IBCs compared with wild type UTI89. This difference was not observed in strains lacking sitA (ABC-type iron/manganese transporter subunit), iroN (salmochelin receptor), hlyA (alpha-hemolysin), or entF (enterobactin synthetase subunit). Together, these studies indicate that heme- and siderophore-associated iron play key roles in IBC development and provide a series of microbial and host biomarkers for comparing UPEC strains isolated from humans.