Polarized monolayers of the human intestinal epithelial Caco-2 cell line were grown on permeable filters and infected apically with either Salmonella choleraesuis or Salmonella typhimurium. Both Salmonella species penetrated through the monolayer, requiring 2 h before appearing in the basolateral medium. Both species caused a loss in transepithelial resistance by 3-4 h, and the monolayer's integrity was completely disrupted by 6 h. Scanning and transmission electron microscopy revealed that the bacteria interacted with well-defined apical microvilli and caused disruptions in the brush border, including elongation and denuding of the microvilli. The cytoplasm was also disrupted locally, with blebs protruding from the apical surface. The bacteria entered (invaded) these cells and were enclosed in membrane-bound vacuoles within the cytoplasm. By 6 h there were many bacteria within most Caco-2 cells, and these organisms caused serious cytopathic consequences. These morphologic observations correlated well with animal infection models, indicating that this in vitro system will be useful to study pathogens that interact with human intestinal epithelia.