Current advances in the study of gut mucosal immunology and molecular biology have enhanced our ability to understand the pathogenesis of enteric bacterial infections as well as the role of the immune system in mediating both tissue injury and protection. In this article, we review the immunopathogenesis and the protective immune response to three enteric pathogens, Vibrio cholerae, Shigella, and Salmonella. Each of these pathogens has a distinctive mechanism by which it causes disease, ie, epithelial attachment, epithelial invasion, and epithelial invasion with systemic dissemination. Pathogenicity and immune response can be conceptualized in terms of the interaction of these enteric pathogens with the gut epithelial compartment, immune inductive sites (Peyer's patch of the small intestine and lymphoid follicles of the colon), and a common immune effector compartment in the laimina propria where protective antibody is secreted. V cholerae, the representative noninvasive pathogen, has fimbrial adhesins that mediate attachment and colonization of the luminal surface of epithelial cells where organisms secrete cholera toxin (CT), a potent enterotoxin that induces a voluminous diarrhea via adenylate cyclase-dependent chloride secretion. Protective immunity is based on secretory (s) immunoglobulin A directed against whole-cell components that prevent attachment to gut epithelial cells and is enhanced by CT, an immunogen with potent adjuvant activity. Shigella, an enteric pathogen that locally invades gut epithelium, subverts the usual mechanism of immune sampling by initially invading via M cells overlying inductive sites. Subsequent macrophage invasion induces apoptosis and the release of interleukin-1, a proinflammatory cytokine. This seems to be a critical initiating event in immune-mediated tissue injury. Protective immunity is serotype specific. Infection caused by Salmonella is characterized by mucosal invasion and systemic spread mediated by the organisms ability to survive within macrophages. Both antibody and cell-mediated immunity are important for protection against Salmonella.