The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Digestive Diseases Interagency Coordinating Committee held a workshop, chaired by Dr. W. Allan Walker, on July 10-11, 2006, to identify promising leads in necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) research. The goals of the workshop were to identify new approaches to the prevention and treatment of NEC, to define basic and translational mechanisms of potential approaches to NEC, and to develop recommendations for clinical studies to reduce the incidence of NEC. Workshop participants implicated prematurity, introduction of enteral feedings, gastrointestinal bacterial colonization, gut motility, proinflammatory cytokines, impaired gut blood flow, and various neonatal complications in the pathogenesis of NEC. They concluded that a unifying hypothesis encompassing these pathogenetic factors is the uncontrolled exuberant inflammatory response to bacterial colonization that characterizes the intestine of premature infants. The inflammatory cascade appears to offer multiple targets for interventions with a variety of anti-inflammatory agents, including human milk and probiotics. Because of the rapidity with which the inflammatory response gets out of control in infants with NEC, workshop participants agreed that searching for ways to prevent NEC will be more rewarding than trying to identify ways to treat the condition once it has become established.