Intestinal bacteria are implicated increasingly as a pivotal factor in the development of Crohn's disease, but the specific components of the complex polymicrobial enteric environment driving the inflammatory response are unresolved. This study addresses the role of the ileal mucosa-associated microflora in Crohn's disease. A combination of culture-independent analysis of bacterial diversity (16S rDNA library analysis, quantitative PCR and fluorescence in situ hybridization) and molecular characterization of cultured bacteria was used to examine the ileal mucosa-associated flora of patients with Crohn's disease involving the ileum (13), Crohn's disease restricted to the colon (CCD) (8) and healthy individuals (7). Analysis of 16S rDNA libraries constructed from ileal mucosa yielded nine clades that segregated according to their origin (P<0.0001). 16S rDNA libraries of ileitis mucosa were enriched in sequences for Escherichia coli (P<0.001), but relatively depleted in a subset of Clostridiales (P<0.05). PCR of mucosal DNA was negative for Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis, Shigella and Listeria. The number of E. coli in situ correlated with the severity of ileal disease (rho 0.621, P<0.001) and invasive E. coli was restricted to inflamed mucosa. E. coli strains isolated from the ileum were predominantly novel in phylogeny, displayed pathogen-like behavior in vitro and harbored chromosomal and episomal elements similar to those described in extraintestinal pathogenic E. coli and pathogenic Enterobacteriaceae. These data establish that dysbiosis of the ileal mucosa-associated flora correlates with an ileal Crohn's disease (ICD) phenotype, and raise the possibility that a selective increase in a novel group of invasive E. coli is involved in the etiopathogenesis to Crohn's disease involving the ileum.